Here’s something else to worry about: plastic rain.
Delivered like dust by the wind and rain, researchers in a new study estimate that more than 1,000 tons of tiny plastic microparticles – roughly the equivalent of 120-300 million plastic water bottles – falls upon the U.S each year.
The findings were published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science in the article “Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States.“
Lead researcher Janice Brahney of Utah State University was “shocked” at the amount of microplastic her team uncovered, she said in a statement.
“Plastics don’t decompose,” she told the Denver Post. “They just break down into smaller and smaller fibers, and that allows them to be transported through the atmosphere, repeatedly being carried through the atmosphere.“
As shown in this 2019’s article, scientists had already discovered plastic rains across large swaths of the Rocky Mountains:
Overall, the world produced 348 million metric tons of plastic in 2017 and global production shows no sign of slowing down. In the United States, the per capita production of plastic waste is 340 grams per day.
High resilience and longevity make plastics particularly useful in everyday life, but these same properties lead to progressive fragmentation instead of degradation in the environment. These “microplastics” are known to accumulate in wastewaters, rivers, and ultimately the worlds’ oceans – and as Brahney’s team showed, they also accumulate in the atmosphere.
The pollution, obviously, isn’t limited to protected areas: Although her team only examined plastics in National Parks in the western U.S., “it would make sense that plastic pollution is falling everywhere and probably at higher rates in urban areas,” she told USA TODAY. “Our study was a bit of an accident as we meant to study phosphorus deposition in remote locations. Otherwise, we would have set up sites in cities!“
“If we took our mean deposition rate and extrapolated it out for the whole country, it would be 22,000 tons. We definitely need more research of these numbers,” Brahney said.
The results show that atmospheric transport is an important part of how microplastic pollution is distributed globally, including to remote locations. The study findings also underscore the importance of reducing pollution from such materials, which are small enough to accumulate in lung tissue.
Brahney believes that her research is just the beginning of understanding how microplastics move through ecosystems, according to the Guardian.
“Learning about plastics and how they don’t decompose and degrade it seems like, ‘Oh my gosh, we should’ve been expecting this, they’re just fragmenting into these tiny sizes they could certainly be carried by the wind,’” Brahney told the Guardian.
“We’ve just been missing it,” she said.
But don’t worry, it has already been calculated that we eat and / or breathe 50,000 microplastic every year:
And when buying water in plastic bottles, we actually drink plastic:
But worst of all, we know for years that gigantic gyres of garbages are forming in oceans across the world and these so-called great garbage patches are growing year after year: