Microplastics - What They Are and What We Can Do About Them

Microplastics - What They Are and What We Can Do About Them

Most of us are aware of plastic waste. We see it all over the place from the discarded plastic water bottle to the plastic shopping bag stuck in a tree. And, many of us are probably aware that the plastic breaks apart over time even if it doesn’t decompose. What we might not be aware of is what happens to the parts of plastic that we can’t easily see. 

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic (less than 5 mm in size). They come from a variety of sources. Many microplastics come from the breakdown of plastics over time into smaller and smaller pieces, some so small that we can barely see them. Some microplastics are even manufactured intentionally and appear as small beads in cosmetics and personal care products. They are added to replace natural ingredients and serve as an abrasive material to help exfoliate the skin or clean teeth. I remember hearing about microbeads in personal care products like facial cleansers but I never realized that the microbeads were made from plastic. I’m not sure what I thought they were made from. I just never thought about it. Thankfully, in 2015, the US banned the use of microbeads in personal care products, but it’s unknown what other countries are allowing their use.

Microplastics are also shed from clothes made from synthetic fibers. This is an area that I was not aware of until recently. Again, I just didn’t think about it but every time we wash our clothes, small fibers and bits are shed and washed down the drain with the wash water. Those small bits then travel on to our water treatment facilities and into our water systems. 

So, what’s the problem with microplastics? 

Microplastics can be inhaled or ingested by all living creatures. Their prevalence is causing problems with all walks of life and their long term effects on health are unknown. The mass production of plastics began in the 1940s and has increased at a phenomenally fast rate. According to Statistica, the production of plastics increased from 200 million metric tons in 2002 to 368 million metric tons in 2019. In 1950, production was just 1 million metric tons [1]. Eight million metric tons are dumped into our ocean annually and of that, 236,000 tons are microplastics [2, 3].

Microplastics, like much of our waste, ultimately ends up in our waterways. It gets washed down our rivers and streams to ultimately end up in the ocean. Sea life consumes the plastics, either mistaking them for real food or inadvertently along with their food. The plastics then cause numerous health issues. Small animals consume plastics which are then transferred to the larger animals (including humans) who consume the smaller ones, and the cycle continues on and on. As a fan of sea turtles, I have known about the dangers of plastic shopping bags being mistaken for jellyfish. The image of a plastic ring from a 6 pack of cans stuck on the neck of a turtle is ingrained in my head. I was not aware until recently that this happened more regularly with smaller pieces of plastic. It just never occurred to me. 

The harm caused by microplastics has not been studied extensively and the study of the harmful effects of microplastics is a relatively new field, but the fact that large marine animals like whales have been found with stomachs full of plastic is concerning. It’s becoming common to find large amounts of plastic in whales that die and end up washed on shores. One article stated that over 80 pounds of plastic was found in the stomach of a whale in the Philippines [4]. Certainly, if an animal is ingesting plastic instead of nutritious food, they will ultimately not be able to survive. 

The effect on marine life is bad enough but what about the effects on humans? A study conducted in 2019 analyzing a series of other studies estimated that humans ingest between 39,000 - 52,000 microplastic particles per year depending on age and sex. In addition, those who consume bottled water on a regular basis ingest an additional 90,000 particles as compared to 4000 particles for those who consume tap water [5]. If you need another reason to stop drinking bottled water, look no further than that last sentence. 

Just last month, a study was published demonstrating that microplastics are present in human placentas [6]. That means that microplastics ingested by the mother during pregnancy are potentially being passed on to the child in the womb. What these plastics will do to our health long term is yet to be seen, but it certainly is concerning.

We need to reduce our consumption of all plastics but single use plastics at a minimum. Here are some ways in which we can do that:

1. Use reusable shopping bags for grocery shopping (including produce bags) and other shopping trips. Whether you reuse the ones that you already have at your house or you make or purchase ones that will last a long time, reducing your consumption of new plastic bags is a good habit to get into.

2. Drink tap water instead of bottled water. If the water you have access to is not suitable for drinking, consider purchasing a water filtration system. Carrying around a reusable water bottle can significantly reduce the amount of plastic you consume which reduces the plastic in our environment. 

3. Purchase clothing made of natural materials such as cotton, wool, silk, hemp and bamboo. Fabric made from synthetic materials like polyester, fleece and nylon sheds small threads and bits that enter our water stream, mostly from being washed. If you have clothes made of synthetic materials, washing them in a bag that catches the fibers is one way to reduce their spread. 

4. When shopping for food, if you have the option to purchase a food in a non-plastic container, do it. Not all foods have this option, but when it is there, opt for the non-plastic version. If you have access to bulk food stores, use them for those items. 

All of these changes are small but can be impactful if many people do them. 


1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/282732/global-production-of-plastics-since-1950/

2. Jambeck, J. R., et al. “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean.” Science, vol. 347, no. 6223, 13 Feb. 2015, pp. 768–771., doi:10.1126/science.1260352.

3. Erik van Sebille et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 124006
4. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6821483/Dead-whale-80-pounds-plastic-pollution-stomach.html

5. Cox, Kieran D.; Covernton, Garth A.; Davies, Hailey L.; Dower, John F.; Juanes, Francis; Dudas, Sarah E. (2019). "Human Consumption of Microplastics" (PDF). Environmental Science & Technology. 53 (12): 7068–7074. Bibcode:2019EnST...53.7068C. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b01517. PMID 31184127.

6. Ragusa, A, Svelato, A, Santacroce, C. et al. 2021 Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta Environment International 146: 106274.

Bees and Honey

Bees and Honey
I have been fascinated by bees and honey for years. When I lived in Tennessee, I met a man who was from Poland.  He told me that my maiden name meant shepherd or beekeeper. I took that as a sign to someday pursue working with bees.
I had the opportunity to attend a one-day workshop on beekeeping a couple of weeks ago and I was fascinated from beginning to end. At the end, I wanted more, so I asked where I could learn more and the presenters pointed me to their website and their 6 week class beginning in February. I’m already registered.
One of the things I learned at the workshop was that honey is one of the most adulterated foods on the market. The majority of honey on the market is not actually honey. I was puzzled by this statement. I had a vague recollection about hearing that commercial honey manufacturers were stripping pollen from honey and thought that was what they were talking about, but no. What they were referring to is that much of the honey available for purchase in retail stores, you know, that substance contained in those cute little bear-shaped bottles, is not 100% honey. It is often colored corn syrup. I was stunned.
I went home and started doing some reading. Sure enough, the recollection I had about the removal of pollen was an odd article that caught the headlines but was essentially meaningless. It had to do with honey with and without pollen and whether one was better than the other (http://www.lb7.uscourts.gov/documents/12-CV-7584.pdf). So, first up, I leaned that bees make honey from the nectar they gather from flowers, not from the pollen, so whether or not honey contains pollen, it is still honey. Good to know.
Next, I looked into the “fake honey” statement. Sure enough, there are lots of articles out there talking about how the honey you buy at the grocery store may not actually be honey. Honey is in the list of top 10 foods that are adulterated on a regular basis. Honey collection requires manual labor. In order to increase profits, manufacturers will add corn, rice or sugar cane syrup to honey to stretch it. Estimates vary but range from 1/3 to 3/4 of all honey purchased in grocery stores is adulterated. Of course, this both surprised me and disappointed me.
As many know, pure honey has lots of health benefits that are clearly not present in corn syrup. So, it’s important to get the real stuff. Although there are several articles that explain in great detail how to test your honey to make sure it’s the real deal, I would simply recommend that you buy honey locally. Do a search of your area to find local beekeepers and buy directly from them. You’ll be supporting a local business and keeping bees flying which helps with our food chain by pollinating crops. Perhaps one day, one of those local beekeepers will be me.
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Adventures in Bucket Composting - Part 2

Adventures in Bucket Composting - Part 2
In my previous post, I showed how I prepared my two-bucket system from empty cat litter bins I obtained from one of my friends. Once the initial layers of material were in place, there was not much that I needed to do except keep an eye on it.
Across the next 4 weeks, I checked on my compost routinely – at least twice per week to give it air and mix it up a bit. I used a regular garden trowel to access the material at the bottom of the bucket to bring it to the surface. I tried to make sure to keep the food scraps in the middle of the pile as much as possible, as I had read that’s where they should be.
I also fretted about whether it was too dry or too wet and whether the ratio between browns and greens was right. I added water when it got too dry and added dry materials when it seemed to wet. Not much changed on a day to day basis, but across the weeks, I could see that the food scraps, eggshells and other greens were breaking down slowly.
There were some sprouts that popped up along the way, and I just plucked them out as I saw them. Not being sure what they were coming from, I didn’t consider eating them. I’m happy to indulge in sprouts that are from beans, but the unknown? I’m not that adventurous.
I checked for heat to be generated from my little bucket. Composting in this way should be generating heat, so adding more food scraps and greens when the temperature of the pile seemed to drop helped with this.
Lastly, I added some dried leaves on top of the bin as someone suggested this would help the compost break down better as well as keep down the bugs. I certainly saw a good number of tiny flies in the bin. I will show you what happened in the next post. Stay tuned.

Here's a link to the second video that I did in this series:

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5 Lessons Learned from Yoga

5 Lessons Learned from Yoga
I’ve been taking yoga for 2 years now. If you’ve never taken yoga before, I highly recommend that you give it a try. You don’t have to be the thinnest, most fit, most flexible person to do it. Everyone is capable of practicing yoga, and every pose can be adapted to meet your body’s needs.
I’ve learned a lot in the past 2 years and continue to learn even more. This past week, my yoga teacher talked about the connections between yoga and nature. Between the names of the poses as well as the natural stretching of our bodies, the connection is subtle, but it’s there.
Here are a few things that yoga has taught me.
1. Breathe
This was my first lesson. You don’t realize at first that when you concentrate on holding a pose, you often hold your breath. My yoga instructor often tells us, “Enjoy your breath.” And that’s when it hits me. Oh, yeah, I’m holding my breath.
Learning not to hold our breath in yoga helps us learn to not hold our breath in life. When you’re stressed, tired, anxious or nervous, that’s a good time to focus on your breathing.
2. Honor Your Body
From day to day, our bodies change. One day, we can be stiff from working in our yard the previous day and the next day we can be well rested. One of the mantras of yoga is, “Honor your body.” Yoga is not supposed to hurt, so if you’re doing something that’s hurting, you should stop. Honor your body.
We only have one body, so we need to take good care of it. From what we put into our bodies to what we apply onto our bodies, it needs to be good for us. Our bodies need exercise and rest in order to function well.
Aging is no joke, and I’m not the athletic person I was in my youth. I need to honor my body by not pushing myself to do something my body is no longer able to do.
3. Live in the Moment
It is important to focus on what you are doing at the time and leave the distractions for another time. Easier said than done, right? Practicing yoga is a good way to force you to live in the moment. In a yoga classroom, all phones are off and it’s you, the mat and others in the room. These days, I practice yoga at home with a live feed from a yoga studio. It’s challenging, but I do my best to focus on yoga and not the clothes that need to be folded and put away or the dusty furniture that needs to be cleaned. The mental effort it takes to live in the moment during yoga has its rewards and makes me want to live in the moment in everything happening in my life.
4. Everyone’s Body is Different
Not flexible? Me either, but that will come in time as you continue to practice. Don’t let your body condition interfere with your ability to do something for yourself.
Can’t run like you used to? That doesn’t mean you can’t move. Walk instead. You’re still moving and using your muscles. Do what works for your body.
5. Balance Takes Practice
Our ability to balance drops off with age. As I age, I want to maintain an active lifestyle as long as I can. That means, I need to be deliberate in maintaining fitness and balance throughout my life. It will no longer come naturally. I will have to work at it.
Balance is important in all things, not just our physical sense. Do you work toward having a healthy work-life balance? Holding a balance yoga pose is a great reminder to work on balance in all aspects of our lives.
Whether you’ve been practicing yoga for years or have yet to take a class, I highly recommend it. You’ll gain in all aspects of your life.

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