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How to face the ubiquitous microplastics

  In recent years, environmental pollution and health problems caused by microplastics have become a topic of public concern. Following the discovery of microplastics in human blood and feces, researchers have now found microplastics on plant leaves, and the amount is not small and the volume is large, which may pose potential dangers to humans, animals and the ecological environment.
  Not long ago, Katarina Fogasova’s research team at Preshev University in Slovakia published a paper on the online platform of the journal “Biorisk”, introducing the fact that the team found a large number of microplastics on plant leaves. Process and research details.
  For the past few years, Fogasova’s team has traveled to eastern Slovakia to study the tiny creatures that live in the small puddles formed by the leaf axils of the tsampweed. The leaves of the plant grow from the stalk, and the connection part of the petiole and the stalk forms an angle, and the inner side of the junction of the petiole and the stalk is the leaf axil.
  In the water collected from the leaf axils, the researchers found not only tiny organisms, but also colorful fragments and fibers. Studies have confirmed that these fragments and fibers contain a large amount of microplastics. Among these microplastics, there are fibers of various colors ranging in length from 0.141 to 2.4 mm, as well as blue and orange fragments with a diameter of 9 to 81 microns.
  Although microplastics have been found in human food, drinking water, and organs (e.g., gut, blood vessels, blood) of various animals, including humans, they had never been found in water on plant leaves before.
  Water on plant leaves comes from a variety of sources. First comes from rainfall, followed by dew, spit water from plants, water transported by animals and microorganisms to plants.
  Dew, like frost, does not fall from the sky on the leaves of plants. In the warm season, the temperature drops at night, and the temperature of the air in contact with the surface of plants and objects will also drop. When the temperature drops to the “dew point temperature”, excess water will precipitate and condense into water droplets attached to leaves and ground objects. on, forming dew. Dew is randomly distributed on the leaves, and there will be dew on the leaves and leaf axils.
  Plant spitting water is not a liquid secreted by plants after injury, but a physiological phenomenon of plants to maintain water balance in the body. Plant spitting generally occurs at night. At night, the roots of the plants are still continuously absorbing water and inorganic salts in the soil, but the transpiration of the plants is weakened. Therefore, the excess water can only be discharged through the tiny water holes on the edge of the leaves, and the edges of the leaves will be covered with shiny water droplets .
  The water on the leaves of plants may also be transported by microorganisms and animals. For example, snails may transport water from the soil or other plants to the axils and leaves.
  The presence of microplastics in dew, plant spitting water, and water transported by animals shows that microplastic pollution in ecology and the environment is already serious. Previous studies have proved that microplastics entering the human body through food and drinking water may cause diseases of the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and reproductive system.
  How to prevent the pervasive microplastics?
  First, trace the origin of microplastics. Microplastics arise from the multitude of plastic products people use, the most common of which are the plastic bottles used to bottle water. The manufacturing material of plastic bottles is mainly PET plastic (polyester resin). It is estimated that an average of 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute in the world, and an average of 500 billion plastic bottles are sold every year.
  China is the world’s largest producer of plastics and plastic products. In 2021, China produced 110 million tons of plastic, imported 33.97 million tons, and produced more than 80 million tons of plastic products. Meanwhile, China consumes about 200 billion plastic beverage bottles every year. Where did these plastic bottles end up? According to statistics, most of the discarded plastic beverage bottles have entered informal recycling channels. Statistics show that 32% of the world’s discarded plastic bottles are not recycled, and are eventually abandoned on land, rivers, and oceans, causing serious environmental pollution.
  The United Nations Environment Program predicts that by 2050, the weight of plastic waste in the ocean will exceed that of fish, which not only threatens the marine ecological environment, but also endangers humans. Plastic bottles and other plastic products form a large amount of microplastics after being transported, collided, weathered and decomposed in the process of becoming garbage.
  Prohibiting and restricting the use of plastic products, using other alternatives, such as paper packaging, and recycling and using plastic bottles, are all effective ways to reduce plastic waste and thus reduce microplastics. However, the effect of banning plastic products is not significant at present, because people are already inseparable from plastic products, and alternative products have not been widely adopted because of high cost and unsatisfactory practicability. Therefore, the international community has been exploring how to recycle and utilize plastic bottles and other plastic packaging and supplies, which is currently one of the most effective ways to reduce plastic products and microplastics.
  China is also exploring ways to reduce microplastics, with both administrative regulations and laws. Article 46 of the “Circular Economy Promotion Law” that China has implemented since January 2009 stipulates: “The state encourages the recycling of waste through trade-in and deposits.” In 2022, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce and other departments jointly issued the “On The Guiding Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of the Waste Material Recycling System states that by 2025, a waste material recycling network system will be basically established, and more than 1,000 green sorting centers will be built.
  These guidelines and policies are also in line with international standards, and the way of taking beverage bottle deposits has been proved to be an effective way to recycle plastic bottles. In December 2017, UNEP encouraged all countries to implement beverage bottle deposit schemes. In May 2018, the European Commission proposed to require member states to recycle 90% of disposable plastic beverage bottles by 2025 through initiatives such as beverage bottle deposit schemes.
  The beverage bottle deposit scheme is to collect a deposit on products that may be contaminated, and return the deposit when the product or residue is sent back to the recycling system to avoid waste from polluting the environment. Deposits or environmental funds can be used to set up automatic recycling machines. By using automatic recycling machines to separate bottles and cans for recycling, beverage bottles will not be contaminated by other waste in the household waste bin during recycling. Beverage bottles can be recycled into new bottles and cans in a closed loop.
  With the beverage bottle deposit scheme, almost 100% of empty beverage bottles can be recycled. No other waste collection system can achieve such a high recovery rate. At present, more than 60 countries and regions around the world have adopted the deposit system to recycle beverage bottles, so that about 40 billion beverage packaging can be recycled globally every year, including mineral water bottles, cans, glass bottles, etc. At present, some cities in China have set up automatic recycling machines, such as Beijing and Shanghai.
  If companies that use plastic bottles and plastic packaging can use part of their annual profits to set up a batch of automatic recycling machines in various cities across the country, and bear a part of the deposit, or abandon plastic products and use paper containers for packaging, it is possible that in the not-too-distant future all Solve the problem of environmental pollution caused by plastic bottles and usher in a new situation of green, healthy and sustainable development.

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