Everything You Need to Know About Microplastics

Everything You Need to Know About Microplastics

An overview of the science, intersectional social justice implications, and actionable items we can all use.

Microplastics are the invisible yet utterly omnipresent physical manifestation of petro-colonialism in the 21st century. Let’s unpack what that means through an intersectional lens and explore how we can mitigate and minimize their impacts.

The Basics

The scientific definition of a microplastic is a plastic particle which measures ≤5mm in diameter (so, about ½ a cm). A key understanding at the outset is that microplastics are literally everywhere — they’ve been found at the tops of the Himalayas, the bottom of the Mariana Trench, in every sampled body of water, in soils, in the arctic (I was there for that one), and, naturally, in our bodies.

The following describes what the lifecycle of a single microplastic might look like. There are many different types of plastics (PET, LDPE, HDPE, etc.) and subcategories of microplastics (fibers make up the overwhelming majority) but let’s focus on what most people think of when they hear ‘microplastic.’ Firstly, crude oil is extracted from the earth (99% of microplastics are made from fossil fuels) 1 , this oil is transported to various refineries to undergo various chemical refinements, and finally it is molded into a piece of macroplastic (let’s say, a plastic detergent bottle). Because the US only recycles 15% of waste, that detergent bottle will either disintegrate into microplastics in landfill, and/or be carried out to the nearest body of water. In either case, the bottle will become brittle from sunlight and break down into infinite tiny pieces. Those pieces will circulate the various systems of the earth, infiltrate the marine food chain, move through our bodies (humans consume a credit card worth of plastic per week), and possibly over time sink to the bottom of the ocean. 2

Exploring the Intersectional Impacts of Microplastics

I believe that microplastics impact everybody and every industry, which sounds scary but also means that everybody and every industry has access to solving the problem. The onus is very much on industry and politicians, but I include the everyday consumer in this equation because this is one of the few areas of the climate crisis where individuals’ consumption and political decisions have a potentially significant impact.

‘Wait, you said ‘climate crisis’ but we’re talking about microplastics.’ Yes, the plastic issue is the climate issue. Fossil fuel companies plan to ramp up plastic production by 40% as use for energy and transportation declines in the coming decades. 3

And where does most fossil fuel extraction happen? BIPOC communities, many of which are currently fighting plastics plants in their own backyards. For example, Sharon Lavigne is fighting the Formosa Plastics Plant in Cancer Alley, LA, and Pueblo Action Alliance is protecting sacred sites, like Chaco Canyon, from fracking development.

Microplastics are colonizing our bodies, just like they colonize every corner of the earth.4 Many of these fossil fuel extraction sites decimate water supplies for local communities, forcing them to rely on bottled water. Unfortunately, bottled water contains 2x the concentration of microplastics as does tap.5 This furthers the physical burden of plastic pollution and microplastics on BIPOC and low-income communities.

Microplastics also impact the bodies of folks of the global majority disproportionately by way of seafood. Those most impacted are the millions of communities globally who rely on seafood for a key protein source and deeply rooted cultural practice. Because microplastics are fully integrated into the food chain, folks have no choice but to continue consuming seafood which contains toxins within, and attached to, microplastics, and is stored in fatty tissues of fish.6

BIPOC and folks of the Global South also play a key, and often invisible, role in recycling and handling plastic. Many of these folks are trash pickers, and many of these countries have had developed nations’ plastic and textile waste forced upon them to deal with.

Minimizing Exposure and Solutions

Because the plastics problem is a climate problem, it is an intersectional justice problem. We must uplift and amplify BIPOC voices, which includes demanding fair voter rights legislation. Call your representatives and advocate for taxes, bans, Extended Producer Responsibility bills, and a carbon tax and dividend. Support grassroots organizations fighting to stop petrochemical plant development and pipeline construction. Support by volunteering, donating, or amplifying their essential work.

Individual actions do matter, especially when you communicate about what you’re doing with those around you. Many reusable alternatives are not financially accessible to low-income folks and BIPOC (another example of plastic’s intersectional issues). If it is accessible to you, simply eliminating disposables and reducing microfiber shedding by wearing natural fibers is a best case scenario on the personal level. However we must be critical of technical and chemical solutions: many recent innovations like the bioplastics realm are ‘less worse’ replacements for the problem and do not negate the issue. Bioplastics are not only counterproductive, they are bad for our health. Many bioplastics break down into methane, a greenhouse gas which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, researchers at Stanford have created a technology that converts methane gas into PHA, which is sold to plastic producers. The problem? PHA breaks back down into methane, and this cycle only furthers our plastics addiction and climate crisis. You have immense power, but going from one convenience product to a less toxic convenience product is a detour from the solution.

It is in reframing our understanding of plastics and microplastics as a climate and environmental justice issue that we can build a diverse community and demand change on the consumer, political, and community level. Our responsibility is not to save the earth by cutting down on plastic coffee cups (contrary to the corporate marketing that bombards us constantly), but to push our elected officials — who work for us — to turn the ship around. As mentioned above, communicating to your reps and companies you support that you demand EPR and a Carbon Tax (hello H.R. 2307!) is absolutely key. And any personal behavioral change you do adopt is still extremely helpful — keep it up.



Healing Consciously

Contemplations on Finding our way back from Crises, Loss and the Pandemic

In beginning to slowly move back from our collective experiences with illness, pain and loss into the more routined concerns of our life, we would like to contemplate with you some ways in which we can connect earnestly with the many delicate emotions we have been confronted with since the rise of the pandemic. The unprecedented gravity of the global Covid-19 outbreak and the complex realities that it has accrued over the last couple of years have impacted all of us acutely. As we continue to trace our steps into learning how to be with the virus and our related feelings, these are some ways we think can gently lead us toward the path of healing and offer balance.

1.Understanding that we may all respond to crises and loss differently

We all experience pain, fear and loss differently, and our expression of it is often as novel as our experience. Some of us may feel emotions as anger, grief, tension, anxiety, and/ or confusion quite sharply while some may naturally be a little more composed through it. In other moments we may withdraw inward in silence or look to share and voice our distress with a person or by engaging in a physical project. Whatever our (and another’s)  nature or disposition of responding to adverse conditions, we think it is essential to be mindful of the fact that there are not (and cannot be) any one or two correct ways of articulating them. Each nuance is truthful in its own right, and has the potency to reveal great depth of our human experience that we must be faithful with.

2.Giving light to and accepting our pain

To experience pain and to accept our pain are distinct subjects. Whereas the former arises of its own accord, the latter is an undertaking that requires conscious exercise at our end. Accepting our pain can feel overwhelming, confusing and agonising to us  upon occasion as it is difficult to foretell apriori what we may see or be met with if we look at it squarely. At such a time, it is valuable to have our friends and family who can support us in going deeply into our feelings, or to partake in grounding practices such as writing, moving our body, savouring a warm dish we like etc, if we are by (and with) ourselves. Though such services and spaces cannot by themselves lead us into acceptance, they can brace us when we are organically ready, yet hesitant or afraid to allow it. Allowing that acceptance, whilst fearsome, can bring us closer to feeling safe in our challenging experiences and we encourage you to try to do so slowly.

3.Being mindfully present with our pain 

Our pain has a unique language of its own that can show itself intimately when we look at its delicacy. One of the ways in which we can understand this language is by sitting silently and feeling the physical sensations in our body to our (emotional) pain. What is the texture of our pain? Does it feel cold, hot, dense? Is the pain moving downward or upward? Are you able to locate if the pain is centred near the head, chest, solar plexus or elsewhere? At an emotional level, we can ask what primary or central emotional form(s) our pain has. Is it felt as sadness, horror, anger, emptiness or something else? Is it a pure(ly physical) feeling and hence unnamable? Is there hardness to it, or does it feel a little soft? Questions and reflections such as these can prompt us into recognising and being with our experience more completely and honestly. But being with our pain can also involve characteristics other than observing it in quietude – such as while doing everyday chores or at work.

4.Identifying what we need for our healing

As we listen to our feelings and perceive their truths, we will gradually be able to discern what we need to be able to soften our distress and heal. Perhaps we need to take some kind of action, rest, or meditate, or do something ‘constructive’ or ‘wasteful’. We may wish to channel some memories of a loved one we lost in this time, find ways to bid them adieu in manners we previously couldn’t or that are personal to us, or just sit and stay with our pain till it runs its course. Maybe we want to be associated with social services related to providing relief to Covid patients or engage in healthy dissociation through watching television or reading a novel. In as much as we don’t abandon our pain (or our selves) when it displays itself in its rawest forms, we believe that whichever paths we feel are authentic to who we are, are worthy to pursue for finding healing.

5.Seeking assistance through therapy and other professional practices 

Our processes and needs may differ through this and other like periods, and consulting a therapist or professional to speak with about our pain or experience(s) can be invaluable. While the above noted ways have been personally instrumental for us at IKKIVI to practice, we are not trained in the diverse and holistic techniques that a professional in the field can entail, and advocate for such an approach if you may be thinking or wanting to pursue it. Please take our listed methods upon yourselves if you feel ready, or in the presence of a loved one, or a practitioner to receive guidance from. Therapy can provide a safe space and articulate structure to express and integrate our emotions, and we think that it is important to destigmatize and normalize talking about our pain in such environments.


The newness, unfamiliarity and effects of a disease at such a vast scale are such that we may find ourselves learning how to be with and in its presence all together again each day. As stepping back into the everyday discourses of our lives can feel uncomfortable through such a time, we believe it may be favourable to enter into them with matters that feel more simple to partake in – both in our homes and at work – as well as to evenly pace ourselves and extend as slowly and swiftly as you like.