How to tackle the most damaging stealth pollutant of our time – Microplastics.

Key takeaways:

  1. Microplastics are everywhere, damaging marine and human health and polluting the natural environment at an unprecedented scale.
  2. Almost 40% of plastics produced are used for packaging, highlighting the urgency to develop reusable, recyclable, or compostable alternatives.
  3. By setting up a shared infrastructure that supports innovation, elimination of problematic plastics, and effective waste management, we can shift to a circular economy.





What if I told you that something that’s known to increase the risk of heart attacks is present everywhere around you? It’s in the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the water you drink.  Well, the culprit that puts people at a significantly greater risk of cardiovascular disease is none other than tiny particles of plastic known as microplastics. 

Research shows that microplastics have made their way into our brains, lungs, and arteries. Patients with microplastics in their arteries were found four and a half times more likely to suffer from heart attack and stroke

From a 1.5 million tonne problem in 1950, global plastic production now stands at a staggering 400 million tonnes. What’s worse – it shows no signs of slowing down and is projected to double by 2040. So, where does all this plastic go? Landfills, oceans, and our bodies. 

The good news is that there are infinite ways to minimise plastic pollution. In this article, I will outline four. 

What are microplastics? Where do they come from?

Microplastics are ultra-small bits of plastic, less than 5 mm in size— roughly about the size of a single grain of rice. It’s their tiny size that allows them to sneak into the peaks of the tallest mountains to the deepest parts of the oceans. They’ve also infiltrated our soils, the air, and the water we drink. 

One of the most worrying sources of microplastic pollutants is synthetic textiles—clothes, carpets, and curtains made of polyester, nylon, elastane, and acrylic are known to shed microplastics every time you wash them. In fact, every kg of washed fabric releases anywhere from 650,000 to 1.5 million microfibers into the wastewater stream. The debris from car tyres is another major source of microplastic pollution. 

The production, use, and disposal of synthetic fibres and tyre debris are secondary sources of microplastics. What you’ll be amazed to know is that many companies intentionally produce them as an ingredient for their products. Think about exfoliants, toothpaste, lip balms and deodorants— personal care products like these contain microbeads that are either absorbed and ingested by us during use or washed down the drain.

As an urban coastal nation, Australia contributes heavily to this problem. A team of researchers that analysed sediment samples from Moreton Bay, Brisbane, estimated the presence of 7,000 metric tons of microplastics in the area.

An Australian documentary examines the role of multibillion-dollar corporations in intentionally causing microplastic pollution. In Revealed: How To Poison A Planet, Academy Award-winning actor Mark Ruffalo explains how products sold by large chemical companies were full of per- and polyfluoroalkylsubstances (PFAS). These substances are known as “forever chemicals” as they never break down in nature and have contaminated water supplies, ecosystems, and our bodies. If you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you do.

How to minimise microplastic pollution

Tackle the problem at the source

I strongly believe that you cannot solve a problem unless you identify and address its root cause. In the case of microplastic pollution, reducing the scale of the problem means eliminating single-use plastics before moving on to recycling and other steps in waste management. 

A report by Oceana—a non-profit ocean conservation organisation—highlighted the crucial role of the beverage industry in reducing aquatic plastic pollution. It estimated that if the Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico increased the volume of beverages they sell in reusable packaging by a mere 10%, it would eliminate over 1 trillion plastic bottles and cups.

A large-scale reduction in plastics would also require policy support and investments to make it economically appealing. According to a report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, a systemic transformation that encourages consumers to buy reusable packaging and return it later for sorting, cleaning, and refilling can do wonders in minimising plastic pollution. 

The report estimates that a shared and standardised return system can result in over 20% reduction in plastics leaking into the waterways by 2040. It can also help cut down packaging-related greenhouse gas emissions by 35%-60% and water consumption by 30%-70%.

As leaders and business owners, you can start reducing plastic waste within your organisation by opting for sustainable packaging made with home-compostable materials instead of synthetic polymers. Like WOOLPACK!

Effective waste management

I discussed the importance of reducing single-use plastics in the previous point. However, reduction efforts need to be coupled with effective waste management so that plastic used is disposed of responsibly. The innovative Guppyfriend washing bag comes to mind. It not only reduces pilling during laundry but also catches synthetic fibres and prevents them from going into the wastewater. 

When we talk about waste management, our attention automatically turns to recycling. Recycling is great, but not every recyclable packaging gets recycled. According to Oceana, only about 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled properly. The rest gets incinerated or ends up in landfills or the environment. 

The recycling process is not only toxic and costly, but it might actually worsen the problem by releasing significant amounts of microplastics into wastewater. This makes scaling up reuse a better strategy. 

Transitioning to a reuse economy cannot happen overnight. It demands a multi-stakeholder collaboration. Production of innovative and eco-friendly plastic alternatives must be backed by shared infrastructure that brings economies of scale into collection, sorting, and cleaning processes. Businesses and policymakers must also look at incentivising take-back programs to collect the packaging from the customers and deal with it responsibly.

Research and innovation

Tackling plastic pollution requires creativity, and several academic research teams and start-ups have taken on the challenge. A team at the University of Waterloo, Canada, has devised a clever way to use AI and spectroscopy to identify microplastics in wastewater. 

I also recently read about Tyre Collective, a UK-based start-up that has a promising device designed to go on car wheels and absorb microplastic debris from the tyres. The company channels the collected debris into construction materials and 3D printing.

Closer home, Seabin is on an ambitious mission to minimise marine plastic pollution. Their invention works like a floating garbage bin that captures plastic bags, fuel, and detergents. Whatever’s collected is either recycled or transported to a waste management plant. 

Transparent supply chains

Nearly 40% of plastic produced is turned into single-use packaging. Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do as a business owner to reduce plastic waste. Reshaping your supply chain is a good place to start. Begin by tracking how many of your suppliers use single-use plastics and why. It might make for an uncomfortable conversation, but ask them for a breakdown of how much of the plastic is virgin and how much is recycled and reusable. 

Promoting supply chain transparency and responsibility in plastic use and disposal can prove to be potent in tackling plastic waste and pollution. At Planet Protector, something we are particularly proud of is our recent investment in sovereign manufacturing capability. This will allow us to offer contract manufacturing services to the Australian market as early as Q2 2024.  

Our machinery will manufacture a host of non-woven products and fibre inputs to operate more sustainably and help businesses achieve ESG targets. It’s our way of giving back to the local community and Australian businesses that are trying to make their supply chains more transparent, ethical, and responsible.

Final thoughts

There’s no doubt about it: the world could do with low-plastic products and returnable packaging made from recycled plastics. That’s why Planet Protector is on a quest to create innovative solutions to take on the polystyrene waste crisis that’s wreaking havoc on our planet.  

Thanks to our continuous R&D and sustainability culture, we have developed a suite of innovative alternatives. WOOLPACK, the feather in our cap, is a cost-effective and insulated packaging material made of waste wool that would otherwise have ended up in landfills or landfills.

To learn more about Planet Protector’s innovative solution, WOOLPACK, and how it can help your business reduce plastic, get in touch today.