Mirpuri Foundation highlights dangers of microplastics in successful school workshop

The Mirpuri Foundation was back in the classroom to talk to students about the dangers of plastic pollution and the never-ending build-up of harmful microplastics in the seas around us.

The workshop, the third in a series around Lisbon, addressed about 60 pupils, aged 14 and 15, at the Gil Vicente School, and revolved around the growing awareness of the dangers presented to human health, as well as the planet’s wellbeing, from the uncontrolled manufacture, use and disposal of plastic items, ranging from packaging to common household utensils.

Mirpuri Foundation´s  Medical Adviser, Doctor Luíza Mirpuri, explained in detail how, when plastic waste enters waterways, it does not degrade as other substances would. Instead, exposure to the sun’s rays, reaction to oxygen, and degradation from physical elements such as waves and sand, cause the plastic debris to break down into tiny pieces.

She explained too that microplastics were defined by scientists as particles of plastic smaller than five millimeters (around the size of a sesame seed) but noted that microplastic particles can, in practice, be much smaller. 

She told them that the world is already registering an increase in the number of individuals suffering from cancer, allergies and infertility, and asked the children if they were willing to stand by as their generation suffered and became susceptible to new diseases arising from the little-understood effects of plastic as a contaminant. 

Pupils were shocked to hear how microplastics affect humans, and how, notwithstanding these effects, plastic is continuing to find its way into every aspect of their young lives, including the food on their plates and the clothes they wear each day. 

Children were shown Mirpuri Foundation videos and were encouraged to share their ideas for tackling the problem.

Dr. Luíza explained that since plastic was ‘introduced’ to the world in 1950s, humans had produced eight billion tons of the plastic. Most of which still exists.

“And even now,” said the Doctor, “we are continuing to produce millions of tons of plastic each year. It’s as crazy as it is unsustainable.”

Explaining that most manufactured plastic items, such as plastic water bottles and drinking straws, are used just once and then discarded, Dr. Luíza told pupils that: “Pollution has become of massive global concern as plastics of all shapes and sizes have begun to clog our waterways and spoil the natural landscape.”

Reflecting upon the workshop and the “Turn the Tide on Plastic” campaign more generally, Ana Agostinho, from the Mirpuri Foundation, observed that:

“As I made clear to the children, young though they are, they are set to become the decision and policy-makers of the future. It’s important then that they are in no doubt about environmental hazards that previous generations have failed to recognise and address.

“It’s important too for them to have the facts at their fingertips as they grow into adulthood, so that they can start to think seriously about what matters for their futures.”

The children were given the chance to examine alternative products, such as bamboo toothbrushes and cutlery, which were passed around to be discussed as the children offered their own ideas for possible substitute materials.