Tackling Plastic Pollution

Tackling Plastic Pollution Starts with Our Own Behavior

by Valentina H. Pauna, PhD

Something that seems to be missing no matter what we do as scientists is an opportunity to share how we, in our personal lives, practice what we preach. As a scientist interested in microplastic pollution, I recognize that microplastics can be found, literally, everywhere. From the deepest trenches in the sea to the tallest peaks on land, in the water we drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the blood that circulates through our veins. So how does anything that I do help reduce microplastic leakage into the environment? I am just one of billions of people, not to mention just a person in a world full of large-scale, global industry. Despite this, I believe that I can do my part to help, and I hope to encourage others to do the same.

I have always thought that there is great wisdom in the old riddle “How do you eat an Elephant?” The answer being “one bite at a time”. I would say that this advice is most certainly applicable to the problem of microplastics. One well-informed behavior change at a time could help make a big difference in the long run. So, without further ado, below is a list of 5 behaviors a microplastic scientist has adopted to reduce their own microplastic footprint:

It was actually prior to my deep-dive into microplastic research that a friend of mine asked me why I thought I needed a different plastic bag for each of the vegetable and fruit types I was loading into my cart. Now that I know more about the degradation of single-use bags from macro- to microplastics (Tziourrou, P. et al. 2021), it seems like a very relevant and simple behavior change. Admittedly, before she pointed it out, it had never occurred to me that I could simply put the produce directly into the basket, especially since I will be going home to wash them all anyway! If the direct contact to the basket and cart puts you off, many stores sell reusable produce bags, I have a set myself and they are an excellent replacement for an unnecessary plastic bag.

Cotton, hemp, wool, bamboo, lyocell, etc. all of these natural fiber textile choices could help reduce the number of synthetic microfibers that come from washing clothing. It is important to note that some synthetic fabrics release many more fibers than others, i.e. acetate fabric (Yang et al. 2019).

This can be a challenging behavior to adopt as we have little control over how things are packaged. However, it is useful to stay informed on what types of plastic provide an actual benefit to the product of interest, when it makes sense for a product to be packaged with plastic, and which packaging alternatives we can go for that might reduce our own plastic waste (Hahladakis & Iacovidou 2018; Evans et al. 2020; White & Lockyer 2020). It is important to note that the act of opening plastic packaging contributes to microplastic release (Sobhani et al. 2020). Therefore, a conscious effort regarding plastic packaging can help directly and indirectly reduce your own contribution to microplastic pollution.

Plastic is a useful material, I won’t deny it, but since my knowledge on plastic and microplastic pollution via use of certain products has grown (i.e. as demonstrated in Kacprzak & Tijing 2022), my purchasing of plastic items has significantly declined. I have more of a desire for wood, glass, ceramic, clay, natural textiles, etc. when I need to purchase something new. However, it is important to note that high quality plastic items are not necessarily the enemy, the point is to use plastic when it makes sense and for its intended purpose to avoid the release of microplastics due to use, weathering, or other release mechanisms.

As information on microplastics in the form of tire and road wear particles (TRWP) increases, it seems increasingly evident that driving a vehicle of any sort is a very relevant source of microplastic pollution (Mattsson et al. 2023). This is unfortunate for biking as well, and I must say that I still bike quite a bit. However, when possible, I like to take myself to places by foot both for my own health and for the purpose of reducing my microplastic footprint!

Thank you for reading! Before you go, I would like to leave you with the following disclaimers:


Evans, D. M., Parsons, R., Jackson, P., Greenwood, S., & Ryan, A. (2020). Understanding plastic packaging: The co-evolution of materials and Society. Global Environmental Change, 65, 102166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102166

Hahladakis, J. N., & Iacovidou, E. (2018). Closing the loop on plastic packaging materials: What is quality and how does it affect their circularity? Science of The Total Environment, 630, 1394–1400. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.330

Kacprzak, S., & Tijing, L. D. (2022). Microplastics in indoor environment: Sources, mitigation and fate. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, 10(2), 107359. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jece.2022.107359

Mattsson, K., de Lima, J.A., Wilkinson, T. et al. Tyre and road wear particles from source to sea. Micropl.&Nanopl. 3, 14 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s43591-023-00060-8

Rognerud, I., Hurley, R., Lusher, A., Nerland Bråte, I. L., & Hovland Steindal, E. (2023). Addressing microplastics in a global agreement on Plastic Pollution. TemaNord. https://doi.org/10.6027/temanord2022-566

Sobhani, Z., Lei, Y., Tang, Y. et al. Microplastics generated when opening plastic packaging. Sci Rep 10, 4841 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61146-4

Tziourrou, P., Kordella, S., Ardali, Y., Papatheodorou, G., & Karapanagioti, H. K. (2021). Microplastics formation based on degradation characteristics of beached plastic bags. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 169, 112470. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2021.112470

White, A., & Lockyer, S. (2020). Removing plastic packaging from fresh produce – what’s the impact? Nutrition Bulletin, 45(1), 35–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12420

Yang, L., Qiao, F., Lei, K., Li, H., Kang, Y., Cui, S., & An, L. (2019). Microfiber release from different fabrics during washing. Environmental Pollution, 249, 136–143. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2019.03.011