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IMPACT means Irish Microplastic Awareness and Coastal Threats. Our aim is to raise awareness of the impact of microplastics on the Irish coastline by hosting interactive science workshops for children and young people in schools and community organisations. Our long-term mission is to empower local coastal communities to develop initiatives, coordinate projects and contribute to the national debate on microplastics.
IMPACT - Irish Microplastic Awareness and Coastal Threats is an initiative of Dublin Institute of Technology and is supported by Science Foundation Ireland.
What are Microplastics
A microplastic is any plastic entity which is approximately less than 5mm in size
These are particles of plastics that are purposefully manufactured to be microscopic. They are often called microbeads or nurdles. These are often added to household products like face washes, cosmetic and detergents. Some industrial processes like air blasting technologies also used these for abrasive cleaning. These tiny beads are flushed, rinsed and or washed into the environment where they ultimately find their way into our oceans.
Polystyrene microbeads less than half a millimeter
Plastic is not biodegradable so overtime litter like bottles and bags are broken down into smaller and smaller pieces less than 5mm. These tiny fragments often wash up on our beaches and are easily spotted as colourful specks in the sand.
A special class of secondary microplastic comes in the form of tiny fibres. These fibres have many sources but most commonly come from synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic in clothing or ropes and netting materials. An average washing cycle can release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment. A fleece jacket sheds about 2,000 pieces of plastic per wash.
Plastic debris on an Irish beach
Microplastics in Ireland
Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, with an average of 61kg per person every year. That’s almost double what our neighbours in the UK produce. Much of our plastic waste ends up in the sea and causes significant harm to marine life – from tiny snails to humpback whales. In fact Societies addiction to single use plastic is driving a spiral of destruction for our planetary ecosystem on a scale comparable to climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity and ocean acidification.
Marine animals often mistake microplastics for food which can lead to reduced feeding rates resulting in starvation and interference with reproductive cycles. Plastics even make it into our food supply and have been found in fish, drinking water, honey and sugar.
Our Workshops & Activities
Our team of DIT scientists are passionate about bringing science to life and raising awareness of the impact microplastics have on our coasts. We offer:
- Interactive workshops for children and adults.
- Advice and support on implementing a community or school-based action plan to combat single use plastic waste.
- An annual showcase in DIT for to present microplastic mini-projects or local awareness campaigns.
- Advice and support on sharing your progress with the national and international community to raise awareness of microplastic litter.
Primary School Workshops (First to Sixth Class)
Our half-day primary school workshops are aimed at children aged 7 to 12 years old and can be indoor or outdoor. Children are encouraged to become trainee environmental scientists for the day and learn about microplastics in a fun and interactive way. Our team of DIT scientists will demonstrate how to identify, characterise and record microplastics and highlight how they impact the environment while our trainee scientists collect and characterise their own microplastics by filtering sand through special sieves. Then using microscopes, weighing scales, rules and gauges they will record and categorise their samples. Children will be encouraged to find solutions to reducing the impact of microplastics on our coast and supported to develop ideas for school projects after the workshop. Our workshops complement the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) curriculum in an engaging way.
Participants in a workshop
Training Workshops (TY Students, Teachers and Community Leaders)
Designed to empower teachers, community leaders and older students to coordinate their own microplastic projects or awareness campaigns, these half-day workshops are delivered by our team of DIT scientists. Participants will gain hands-on experience in preforming a basic beach survey, cataloguing, characterising, and reporting their results via the European environmental agencies public ‘marine-litter’ app.
Participants in a workshop
Participants are encouraged to carryout microplastic mini-projects or local awareness campaigns of their own after the workshops. Projects and campaigns will be presented at an annual showcase in DIT.
Microplastics Environmental and Ecological Impacts
The unsightly imagine of plastic marine litter is all too easy to find on our beaches and coastal waters. This litter highlights the environmental impacts of our plastic miss-use.
But is it just litter? What are the hidden impacts on animals and the environment? Could you live, sleep and eat in a rubbish dump?
Ingestion is the primary focus of research concerning the impacts of microplastics on the marine environment. Understanding which animals are consuming microplastics and what the impact is on those animals can clarify the significance of marine microplastic pollution and it’s impact on us and the planet.
Could you spot the difference?
When microplastics get into a body
In the body the plastic debris and larger microplastics can cause intestinal problems, blockages and result in reduced feeding rates and starvation of animals. The smaller the microplastic (i.e. from 0.001mm down to 1 billion of a metre or 1 nanometre) the greater the chance of the plastic being retained in the body.
In the body the plastic can cause problems with essential process, systems and organs of the animal. These include the following;
The Endocrine System
This system controls all the chemical signals in the body using chemicals called hormones. Hormones help the body regulating things such as: when you feel hungry; your sleep and your temperature and many more functions. Microplastics can prevent this system from work properly.
The Immune System
The immune system helps to protect the animal against diseases caused by tiny invaders (called pathogens) such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Microplastics can weaken the immune system and helppathogens get access to our bodies.
The liver helps animals by taking toxins (chemicals in the body that are actually like poisons) out of their blood. Often microplastics are not recognised by the liver and so microplastics could accumulate in animals body
The Reproductive system
The reproductive organs are really important to help animals create off spring. If these are damaged by microplastics the number of young fish born could be less or have difficulties surviving after they are born.
The Digestive System
When an animal eats food it is passed through a number of organs in the body the stomach and the intestine are two of the main organs of this system. Microplastics can cause blockages and stop vital nutrients from being taken in by the animal or can give the animal a feeling of being full and so they do not feed and starve.
The Respiratory system
Fish have gills to help them breath in water. We have lungs to help us breath on land. Fish force water through their gills, where it flows past lots of tiny blood vessels which take the oxygen out of the water and so the fish can breathe. Our lungs do the same by using tiny air pockets in the lung that bring the air close to the blood vessels as they can take oxygen from the air. Microplastics can block the gills and our tiny air pockets reducing the amount of oxygen we get for each breath.
The Olfactory System
The olfactory system is the how animals smell things. It starts at the nose which brings in the smell and switches on special sensors called sensory receptors. Animal use their sense of smell to find food and avoid dangers. Microplastics can block this system and issues caused by effecting other systems like the immune system can interfere with how the olfactory system works.
The Plastic Challenge
Step one in addressing the microplastics problem is to assess our relationship with plastic. The plastic challenge will help you explore your plastic dependence.
By keeping the plastic diary for one week you will be able to track your single use plastic consumption. You can then calculate your ‘plastic score’. The score will help you gauge your plastic dependence and identify areas for change.
Take the challenge today find your own plastic score or one for your family. Compare the score to your friends and find out how you can improve it and make a difference to our environment.
IMPACT –DIT Microplastics Awareness Project
School of Physics, Clinical and Optometric Science,
Dublin Institute of Technology,
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