A comprehensive approach to balancing human well-being with nature’s services must take into account the impact of microplastics and nanoplastics (MPs/NPs). MPs/NPs can reduce the ability of soils to sequester carbon, leading to global climate change. They can also cause nutrient imbalances in terrestrial ecosystems and lead to reduced soil productivity, impacting food production. In aquatic environments, MPs/NPs have been linked to increased eutrophication, altered photosynthesis rates in phytoplankton populations, reduced zooplankton growth, changes in the marine carbon pump, and impacts on oceanic carbon pools. It is therefore essential that research into MPs/NPs not only considers their effects on ecology but also investigates how they are affecting human societies economically and socially so appropriate measures can be taken to mitigate these risks for a more sustainable future.
MPs and NPs have been shown to significantly alter the soil environment, including changes in temperature fluxes that can lead to soil erosion and desertification. These alterations can then affect micro- and macro-fauna populations by changing their feeding habits (for arthropods) or even determining the sex of hatchlings (in reptiles). This highlights the need for further research into how MPs and NPs influence nutrient concentrations, microbial diversity, surface biogeochemical cycles, physicochemical parameters, population structure and survival rates of fauna in terrestrial ecosystems.
The influx of microplastics and nanoplastics into aquatic environments has been linked to a range of detrimental effects, including changes in ocean temperature and acidification, altered distribution patterns due to ocean circulation shifts, vectoring of toxic chemicals and microbes leading to ecological damage and biodiversity loss, as well as economic impacts estimated at up to US$2.5 trillion globally. Additionally, there is potential for future pandemics or epidemics from such plastics acting as vectors for infectious diseases. Bottom-feeders are especially vulnerable due to their high intake of plastic particles which can lead to blockages in their feeding systems resulting in death. Therefore it is essential that action is taken now both by individuals reducing the usage of single use plastics and governments legislating against further pollution so as not protect our aquatic ecosystems. The health implications of microplastics and nanoplastics in our marine ecosystems are concerning, posing a direct risk to the lives of aquatic organisms, as well as potential risks to humans through their consumption. Researchers have linked microplastic ingestion with infertility and reduced egg-laying capacity in fish genera due to biomagnification up the food chain. Additionally, MPs entering human bodies can cause blockages leading to death and potentially even pandemics or epidemics from such plastics acting as vectors for infectious diseases. Therefore it is essential that individuals reduce their usage of single use plastics and governments legislate against further pollution so that we can protect both our aquatic ecosystems and human wellbeing.
Microplastics and Nanoplastics (MPs and NPs) pose a serious threat to the world’s ecosystems, not only through their ability to biomagnify up food chains but also by causing direct harm to organisms. In plants, MPs and NPs are able to mimic pollen grains which can obstruct pollination leading to local extinction of species with limited viable seed banks, especially in tropical regions where diversity is highest. Additionally, humans inhaling these pollutants have been linked with various illnesses such as lung congestion, cancer and ulcers; putting further strain on already overwhelmed medical systems in many third-world nations. This reduction in health standards will greatly hinder progress towards achieving SDG targets and lower the Human Development Index.