The Smallest Particles of Plastic Found in Rainwater: Microplastics

Microscope image of microplastics in atmospheric particulate samples.
500 pm. Image via Janice Brahney/ Utah State University.

“A research team was analyzing rainwater samples from national parks and wilderness areas across Colorado, as part of a pilot study on a new type of field equipment. They were shocked to find that the samples contained microplastics – plastic fragments less than 5 mm (.2 inch) in length – including a rainbow of plastic fibers, as well as beads and shards. . . . A staggering 4% of the atmospheric particulates that the researchers identified collected in the samples from these remote locations were plastic polymers.  . . . The ubiquity of microplastics in the atmosphere has unknown consequences for human and animal health, but the size ranges the researchers observed were well within that which accumulate in lung tissue. Bottom line: Tons of microplastic particles carried in the atmosphere have been discovered to fall on protected areas in the American West.” 

See: EarthSky Online, accessed 28 Aug 2021, Plastic rain: More than 1,000 tons of microplastic rain onto western US  Also: The YouTube video for this article can be found at

So, where else do these microplastics land if landing in some of the remotest areas of the country? How do we eliminate microplastic from our environment?

Microplastics account for a major share of the plastic that is harming every living creature from plankton and coral to whales and humans. The majority of these tiny bits of plastics came from two major sources: Personal care products and textile fibers, our hygiene products and our clothing. I urge you to read up on micro-plastics and the harm that is done once they enter the oceans, lakes and streams. Where can we, as conscientious consumers, start ridding our lives of microplastics? 

Most of these microplastics, less than 5 millimeters in size, come from just about anywhere: They are coming from the various products we use in our homes, at work, in the gym — anywhere. But, what are we using that creates this kind of harmful waste?  Answers to this question is both easy and complicated. The easy answer is cigarette filters, and textile fibers but it is harder when it comes to identifying those coming from household cleaning products and personal care products. The complicated part is to end their use for good. A good start is to read what the research experts are saying. You will find a list at the end of this article. 

Let’s start with microbeads in personal care products, the “manufactured polyethylene plastic” pieces are typically found in skincare products. These little bits were so harmful to the creatures in our waterways that on December 28, 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (the link redirects to H. R. 1321, One Hundred Fourteenth Congress of the United States of America). This banned microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products, yet they are still out in the environment causing problems. Sadly there are far too many loopholes in the act, leaving out many things like regulating microbeads in many household cleaning products, including laundry detergents.

This leads to the next major source of microplastic pollution: the very clothing we wear. Here we can make some informed choices and all that is needed to to read the manufacturers labels.  If you see the following on the washlabel; polyester, acrylic, lycra, nylon, spandex, polyester fleece, elastane or polyamide, you may want to think hard before your purchase of new clothing and ask yourself: is this an environmentally sustainable outfit, because they are not.

Look for labels that identify the fabric as organic cotton, linen, hemp, ramie (made from Chinese grass), kapok (fruit of the kapok tree), linen and jute which are all natural and renewable fibers. Clothing made of tencel and lyocell are made from the fibers or regenerated fibers from eucalyptus wood and makes a silk-like fabric. Modal is made from beech wood cellulose which is a sustainable source that is made into a silk-like fabric that absorbs moisture better than cotton, yet has the wash-ability and toughness of cotton using far less water from growth cycle, through harvest to production the cycle. 

Shoes also fall into the sustainable fashion category as they may contain plastic in the upper part and in the soles of the shoe. With every footstep you still leave particles of microplastic behind in nature. Opt for real rubber or leather soles.

What can we do with the plastic clothing that remains in the retail system: do not buy new. This will send a message to the manufacturing firms that they need to rethink their sustainability for the future. Second, Try trading clothing with your friends. New mom’s do this with baby clothing all the time. Third, take up sewing as a new hobby/skill and make your own clothing from sustainable fabric (the plush-you will have a one of a kind garment in your wardrobe and the satisfaction of learning a new skill). Check out CCGKC partner, The Sewing Labs at their website The Sewing Labs – Jobs & Generations connect through community non-profit

There are many ways to help remove microplastics from our daily purchases. You just need to think out of the box while thinking sustainably. And maybe stop smoking while you are at it.