Plastic & Microbeads - FAQ

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by Amelie Deinhard, Dublin FoE member

What is Plastic?

Plastic consists of synthetic organic polymers. Their base units are monomers, which in turn consist of ethylene and propylene: carbon-hydrogen compounds with non-metals.


Plastic was invented in the 1920s by Belgian scientist Leo Hendrik Beakeland and correspondingly called Bakelite (1). Industrial production of plastic began in the 1950s. The American "Life Magazine" then jumped to the topic and advertised on its cover pages the new fabric as "throwaway material" for every-day-life.

Status Quo

It is estimated that 8300 million tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date (2). That is 20000 fold the mass of the Burji Khalifa in Dubai, with 848 meters the highest building in the world. In 2015, only 9% of the overall plastic was recycled, 12% incinerated and 79% land-filled (2). This means that the largest part of all man-made plastic still exists. It does not rot, but instead is fractionised and finally ends up in the Sea. Five big Great Pacific Garbage Patches have formed in the Oceans - around 1 million square meters each (3). By 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the Sea, according to the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation.

Who produces plastic?

Five countries produce half of the amount worldwide: China, India, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand (4). There are laws for surveillance on production and recycle, but no executive control body.

Our contribution to plastic pollution

Every year, 8 million tons (to the 8300 million tons present) are added to the oceans. Imagine one big truck packed with plastic dumped into the oceans every minute of our time, 1440 times a day (5). In the US, 2 million plastic bottles are consumed every 5 minutes (6). We talk about plastic bottles that are made of PP (polypropylene), the material of plastic lids for bottles that float on water – what we see floating on the oceans make up only 5% of the overall plastic in the oceans (7), and PET (polyethylene), the material of the bottle themselves that sinks to the bottom of the sea – which makes up the remaining 95% of the overall plastic in the oceans (7). Micro plastics have developed as an invisible offspring of the plastics of everyday objects. Micro particles are defined as particles smaller in size than 5mm. These fragments concentrate pollutants on millions of times the pollution level in the sea. They become poison pills. Parts end up in the metabolism and innards of fish - and humans who consume the fish. Studies have shown that the plastic odour attracts the fish, which holds the small plastics for food, the stomach is inflated and the fish dies on starvation (8).

Paradigm: Micro- and nanoparticles in waste water

The majority of all cleansing agents and many skin creams contain plastic nanoparticles as lubricants, smaller than 1 billionth meter. The annex contains a list of the corresponding chemicals (11). Up to 60% of clothing is made of polyester fibres, also responsible for plastic micro and nanoparticles in waste water. EU washing machines produce 300000 tons of synthetic fibres per year. As an example, one washing cycle of a fleece jacket discharges up to 1 million microfibers into the wastewater (9). These residuals will finally end up in organic metabolisms. Conventional sewage treatment merely retains between 30 and 60 % of microfibers. Consequently, these fibres are contained in tap water all over the world as residuals (10). Ultimately, the entire water cycle is affected.

Plastic Nanoparticles in Cleaning-Agents and Skin Creams(11)

• Acrylic copolymer (AC)

• Acrylics Crosspolymer (ACS)

• Dimethiconol

• Methicone

• Nylon

• Polyamide (PA)

• Polyacrylates (PA)

• Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)

• Polyquaternium (PQ)

• Polyethylene (PE)

• Polyethylene glycol (PEG)

• Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

• Polypropylene (PP)

• Polypropylene glycol (PPG)

• Polystyrene (PS)

• Polyurethane (PUR)

• Siloxanes

• Silsesquioxane



1 Sep. 2014

2  July 2017

3 accessed 17th Oct. 2017  1985-1988

4 Jan. 2016

5 Jan. 2016 accessed 17th Oct. 2017

6  Feb. 2009

7 2016

8 Sep.2014

9  July 2017

10 Irish Independent, Plastic is found in tap water samples  6th Sep. 2017



Water is life. Water is the thread that interconnects life. Water connects us all. Water is a commons. (Vandana Shiva, Water Wars, 2002/2016)

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Waste Water