The official site of the Torch, the student-run newspaper at Glenbrook North High School.


The official site of the Torch, the student-run newspaper at Glenbrook North High School.


The official site of the Torch, the student-run newspaper at Glenbrook North High School.


Fed up with microplastics

After noticing her friend using a plastic water bottle, junior Ellie Farber made a lighthearted joke about the potential dangers of ingesting microplastics, prompting her friend to switch to a metal water bottle.

“I educated my friend on the dangers of microplastics, which helped her switch her actions,” said Farber. “I encouraged my friend to try avoiding plastics as a whole and use more sustainable options.”

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic ranging in size from one micron to five millimeters. They can enter the human body in multiple ways. 

“Imagine a plastic cutting board and your knife slicing away at your vegetables or cutting chicken on it,” said Molly Jacobs, director of applied research for the Sustainable Chemistry Catalyst at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “All that abrasion against that board? It’s forming microplastics, and so all of that has the opportunity to get into the food that you’re cooking.”

Microplastics can also enter the human body upon ingesting foods that contain them.

“If you eat fish from the ocean and the ocean or that fish has microplastics in them … now the microplastics are in you,” said Mary Johnson, principal research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

According to Jacobs, researchers know human exposure to microplastics is happening, but they have only just begun to investigate its effects and harms on people.

“You could look on the internet, and five years ago, there would have been very few reports, very few studies or very few investigations that looked at microplastics and humans,” said Jacobs. “[Research on microplastics] only just started to be published.”

Microplastics are the products of broken-down plastic materials. As plastics break down, they undergo a process called fragmentation, which differs from the way typical chemicals degrade.

“Typical chemicals might break down into different types of chemicals until they are no longer around in general,” said Jacobs. “Plastics don’t go through that process. Plastics are materials and as they break down, they fragment. They just go into smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller pieces.”

Fragmentation occurs even to plastics that are considered biodegradable, which actually form microplastics sooner because they degrade at a faster rate, Jacobs said.

All microplastics are classified as either primary or secondary. 

Primary microplastics include microbeads used in cosmetics or plastic pellets which are intentionally manufactured into small sizes and can be used to form larger plastic products, said Haley Dalian, Great Lakes regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program.

“That second classification is secondary microplastics,” said Dalian. “And these are bits of plastic and particles that degrade from an existing larger plastic object due to environmental exposure, whether that be the sun, waves, wind, etc.”

One way to limit exposure to microplastics is by reducing plastic use. 

“I think it’s about us as consumers changing our habits and providing signals to the marketplace that we don’t want this much plastic,” said Jacobs. “We care about the environment. We care about our human health. And we care about the impact that our dependency on plastics is having on this.”

According to Farber, she has noticed that education surrounding microplastics has been more present in the media throughout the years.

“I think just seeing people your own age trying to change their own actions can make people aware,” said Farber. “It’s easy to make simple changes in their lives, like even bringing reusable materials for school lunch instead of using plastic materials like forks, knives or napkins.”

About the Contributors
Kaitlyn Lu, Features Editor, Executive Graphics Editor, Distribution Editor
Kaitlyn Lu (‘25) is a Features Editor, Executive Graphics Editor, and Distribution Editor and has been a member of Torch since her sophomore year. Previous positions: Staff Writer (22-23).
Mali Nangia, Staff Writer
Mali Nangia (‘26) is a Staff Writer and has been a member of Torch since her sophomore year.