Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally between 1 and 5 mm (0.039 and 0.197 in) although some are invisible to the human eye. Microplastics are mainly composed of six polymers: polyethylene, polypropylene and expanded polystyrene, which are more likely to float, and polyvinyl chloride, nylons and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are more likely to sink. Microplastic sources include industrial products such as paints, abrasive cleaning agents and tyres, and personal care products such as toothpaste and skin cleaners, as well as fragmentation of larger plastics dumped into the oceans.
Nurdles are small lentil-sized pellets that are the preproduction building blocks for nearly all plastic goods, from soft-drink bottles to oil pipelines. Nurdles can be lost at sea from ships or at port when they are handled. They can also be spilt on land at industrial facilities or can float off down drains and ultimately, out to sea. Currents and wind disperse them and they are now washing up on beaches across the globe.
After entering the ocean, microplastics can be distributed globally with especially high concentrations in ocean gyres, but also close to population centres and shipping routes. Microplastics have been found on beaches, in surface waters, seabed sediments and in a wide variety of marine life. Plastics tend to absorb and concentrate contaminants from surrounding seawater and can also contain a high proportion of additive chemicals incorporated during manufacture. The UK government has banned the sale and manufacture of microbeads.
In 2015, The Environment Agency published a study into the impacts of microplastics on fish.
If you wish to report plastic pollution incidents (rather than discarded litter) call the Environment Agency on 0800 807060. In particular, please report any fresh nurdle spills or large accumulations of nurdles to allow investigation of sources.
In 2016, evidence was produced on the prevalence of microplastics in the Solent.
A Solent Forum student (Megan Tomlinson) produced a useful summary paper on microplastics in the Solent.
In 2020, Simon Slattery from the University of Portsmouth won a Prof Mike Clarke bursary award for his disseration - A Critical Investigation into Microplastic Accumulation, Transportation and Physical Processes in the Marine Environment in and around Langstone and Chichester Harbours, Central Southern England.