What Are Microplastics?
Where do microplastics come from and how do they affect water?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines microplastics as small plastic debris about the size of a grain of rice or sesame seed. Microplastics can form when larger plastic pieces, such as grocery bags and soda bottles, deteriorate into smaller and smaller pieces over time in the natural environment. Additionally, plastic fibers from synthetic clothing can pass through your washing machine and the filters at the wastewater treatment plant and eventually make their way to natural waterways as discharge from the treatment plant. Similarly, tiny plastic fibers can pass through your dryer vent into the atmosphere and end up in natural bodies of water.
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Microplastics have been found in oceans, lakes, rivers, bottled water and even tap water. One study referenced in The New York Times reports that 94% of the U.S. tap water samples analyzed in the study contained plastic particles.
As part of the hydrogeologic cycle, the water discharged from one wastewater treatment plant can make its way to the water intake of a downstream water treatment plant. These microplastics can then pass through the filters at the water treatment plant, or in the case of some large municipalities that do not filter their water (New York, NY; Portland, OR; Boston, MA) can move right through from the reservoir to the distribution system, ending up in public water supplies.
Major Causes of Microplastics in Water Supplies
- Single-use Plastic Bags
- Single-use Plastic Bottles
- Single-use Plastic Straws
- Plastic Fibers in Clothing
One specific type of microplastics, microbeads, were typically manufactured out of polyethylene and added to personal care products such as facial scrubs, body washes, toothpaste and cosmetics. According to a Forbes web article from 2016, microbeads can range in size from 1 micron to 1 mm. At the end of 2015, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, signed by President Obama, banned the use of microbeads in personal care products.
Microplastics can then pass through the filters at the water treatment plant, or in the case of some large municipalities that do not filter their water can move right through from the reservoir to the distribution system, ending up in public water supplies.
How can you protect your water from microplastics?
A Point-of-Use (POU) water filtration system like the Kinetico K5 Drinking Water Station can reduce small particles, like microplastics, in water. The Water Quality Association (WQA) calls POU systems like the K5 a “final barrier” to treat the 1% of municipally-treated water that is consumed by people.
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The K5 Drinking Water Station uses a multi-level filtration process to treat water. Water first travels through a sediment pre-filter where it significantly reduces particulates greater than 5 microns. It then travels through the reverse osmosis (RO) membrane which addresses smaller contaminants like metal ions and aqueous salts that are less than 0.001 micron in size – much smaller than a 1 micron microbead. Optional auxiliary cartridges can be added to handle other concerns such as bacteria and viruses, volatile organic compounds, arsenic and perchlorate. Finally, the water is given a final polish via the postfilter, removing chlorine or chloramine to improve taste and smell.
Ways You Can Reduce Microplastics Yourself
- Replace single-use plastic bags with reusable or paper alternatives.
- Replace single-use plastic cups, straws and silverware with sustainable solutions like bamboo, paper or reusable options.
- Eliminate single-use bottled water and sports drinks and use a refillable bottle instead.
- Look for items with minimal plastic packaging.
- Purchase clothing made with natural fibers.
To protect your family from consuming microplastics and other contaminants that could be in your water, request a quote for a K5 Drinking Water Station. You can also schedule a water test with your local Kinetico water professional to learn more about your water or which drinking water system is best for your home.
Contact your local Kinetico Dealer to Schedule a Free Water Test