Microplastics and How they Threaten the Achievement of the Global Goals

Caterina Sullivan
3 min readOct 19, 2021

Microplastics are threatening the achievement of the Global Goals, and we need to take urgent action to limit, if not eliminate, our consumption of microplastics. In this article, we answer your top questions about microplastics.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic less than 5 millimetres in diameter. There are two types of microplastics. Primary microplastics are those found most commonly in some hygiene and beauty products such as toothpaste and face washes. Primary microplastics also include fibres which breakdown from man-made textiles such as polyester. Secondary microplastics are those which breakaway from larger plastics.

How prevalent are microplastics in our oceans?

Our oceans are filled with an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic. Over 10% of this is made up of microplastics.

An estimated 11 million metric tonnes of plastic is dumped in the oceans each year with this amount set to increase three-fold over the next 20 years.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of the many garbage patches in our oceans around the world. There is an estimated 7 billion tonnes of plastic in this one area of the North Pacific Ocean. A large portion of this is made up of microplastics.

What effect do microplastics have on marine life?

Microplastics can be ingested by marine life and cause damage to their body that can result in severe illness or even death. From life as small as plankton to as large as whales, microplastics can be ingested by all marine life and cause damage to each organism.

Further more, other harmful chemicals can bind to microplastics causing further issues when ingested by marine life.

How does this impact Goal 14: Life Below Water?

Target 14.1 of the Global Goals aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution by 2025. The prevention of microplastics entering our waterways is one of the keys to achieving this target.

Caterina Sullivan

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