You’re likely aware that plastic litters the oceans. But there’s another kind of plastic pollution you might not have heard of. It’s called atmospheric microplastic. And as a new interactive visualization shows, we’re breathing it in all the time.
Plastic Air, a new interactive website by Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi, designer and developer Talia Cotton, and strategy and new business lead Phil Cox in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture, visualizes just how much plastic is free-floating in the air outside on any given day—and how our day-to-day habits make it even worse. Unfortunately, one thing is clear: Although microplastics picked up in a breeze are basically invisible, they’re everywhere.
That’s because microplastics, or plastic particles under 5 millimeters in size, shed off of and break down from just about any plastic product you use—some you may not even think of as plastic. Say you pick up a latte with a plastic lid, or wash a sweater with synthetic fibers, or eat a piece of candy and chuck the wrapper. Once broken down, those little particles can get caught in a breeze and travel as far as the Arctic or the French Pyrenees mountains—and ultimately, into your lungs. Though researchers say there’s not a lot of information available on the behavior of microplastics in the air, it could have harmful effects on your health, including inflammation, lesions, and respiratory problems such as asthma with continued exposure.