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The growing microplastics problem: risks and solutions

Neil King | Natalie Muller
June 30, 2023

Microplastics have been found everywhere — from the deepest parts of the ocean to the heights of Mount Everest. A problem that is set to intensify as we produce over 400 million tons of new plastics every year. But just how dangerous are microplastics? And what can we do about them?


Interviewees featured in this episode:

Tamara Galloway, professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Exeter, UK

  • “With just about every species that we've studied, we've been able to show that they're either ingesting plastics or have plastics in their tissues.

Nicky Eshtiaghi, professor of chemical engineering at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

  • “We have developed a magnetic powder from waste, which can absorb microplastic. It removes 100% of the microplastics in the water within one hour.”

Hanson Cheng, interdisciplinary designer and co-founder of The Tyre Collective, London, UK

  • “Tires is the second largest microplastic pollutant in our oceans. Yet nobody is talking about it.


Microplastics originate from synthetic textiles, city dust, tires, road markings, marine coatings, personal care products and engineered plastic pellets. But synthetic textiles and tire wear constitute the largest share of microplastics in the world’s oceans at 35% and 28% respectively.

Once in the environment, microplastics can accumulate in animals, including fish and shellfish, and are consequently also consumed as food by humans.

A 2017 study into tap and bottled water in 14 countries found microplastics in 80% of the samples with an average of 4.34 plastic particles per liter of water. The US topped the list with 94% of samples containing microplastics.

Our waste water also contains microplastics. Sewage sludge is used in agriculture as organic fertilizer and scientists have shown that we are throwing up to 42,000 tons of microplastics onto European farmland every year. Microplastics have also been found in fruit and vegetables, with apples and carrots showing especially high levels in a study conducted in Italy.

We are inhaling, eating and drinking microplastics all year round. And depending on our exposure, some estimates suggest that we ingest enough microplastic particles per week to make a credit card or 50 plastic bags per year.

But just how dangerous are microplastics and which solutions are on the table?