Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes.
These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes, posing a potential threat to aquatic life. Microplastics have been detected in marine organisms from plankton to whales, in commercial seafood, and even in drinking water. To further complicate matters, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms.
While the impact ingesting microplastics has on humans is unknown, research indicates the bioaccumulation of microplastics in the food web may eventually lead to problematic health concerns for both the environment and humans. For instance, there are apprehensions concerning exposure to chemical contaminants passed to humans through ingestion of microplastics.