One of America’s national treasures is contaminated, thanks to plastic rain. While that might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, it’s legitimately raining pieces of plastic in the Colorado Rockies.
Researchers collected rainwater samples all across the mountain, including locations more than two miles high, and found 90% of the water was contained with small pieces of plastic called microplastics. The small pieces of plastic, in the form of fibers, beads, and shards, are so small they can only be seen with a microscope.
The findings were startling to the lead researcher, Gregory Wither, who was originally investigating nitrogen pollution as part of a U.S. Geological Survey.
“I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye,” Wetherbee told The Guardian. “It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.”
How does it rain plastic?
Plastic is everywhere. From plastic fibers in clothes to plastic packaging on a sandwich, there are millions of products that contain plastic. Small plastic particles can break off of any product and be absorbed into the atmosphere, which then gets pulled into water droplets when it rains. From there, plastic pieces can make their way into rivers, oceans, groundwater – you name it.
A mounting problem
Plastic rain is certainly disturbing, but it does correspond to other research that shows the vast reach of plastic pollution. The Pyrenees, a mountain range in between Spain and France, is considered a pristine area, and yet researchers found microplastics there floating in the air.
In this case, researchers believe the micro pieces were blown there by the wind, some traveling an estimated 60 miles, says EarthSky.
It’s not just picture-perfect mountain ranges that are fighting plastic pollution. Microplastics have been found deep in the ocean floor, in groundwater, in the digestive system of animals, and even in mosquito larvae, which is evidence of just how massive the problem has become.
What can be done?
Since microplastics are so small, removing them from the environment is very difficult. Instead, scientists say efforts must be made to keep plastic from polluting the environment to begin with. If businesses and consumers take action, plastic pollution can be drastically decreased.
Businesses can evaluate and change their packaging or source new plastic-free materials for their products. Consumers can use reusable grocery bags, use refillable water bottles, and support companies that are decreasing plastic use.
Consumers can also support more zero-waste solutions like refill technology. This technology gives consumers the ability to refill their favorite household products like laundry detergent and soap at local stores. But, businesses aren’t embracing the technology because they assume consumers don’t want it. Signing a petition to support these kinds of efforts can go a long way to change the behaviors of both business leaders and consumers.
Plastic pollution has become such a problem, it’s now contaminating some of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s time for every citizen to take a stand, and to take action. Together, plastic pollution can be curbed.