Garbage Goat

“Hi! I’m GG the Garbage Goat, and I like to talk about trash. On my blog you’ll find interesting bits of information regarding how Spokane County handles its solid waste, how our recycling is handled, and other interesting things about waste. If you have questions about recycling or solid waste, you can contact the Spokane County Regional Recycling Information Line at 509-477-6800, or contact us online.”

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Jun 27

What are Microplastics?

Posted on June 27, 2019 at 3:22 PM by Austin Stewart


There is growing concern in our community about the environmental impact of microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic pollution that are found in our environment. Microplastics are concerning because they are easily distributed, travelling by air and through bodies of water, and they are persistent, meaning they will not easily break down in the natural environment. However, there is still very little research on how microplastics affect human health. 

Many national headlines about plastic pollution have focused on our oceans, but microplastics have also been found throughout Spokane County, including in the Spokane River, local tap water, and even in snow on Mount Spokane. The most recent research on microplastics in Spokane County has been aimed at the effect of the Spokane Wastewater Treatment Plant on levels of microplastic pollution in the Spokane River. This study has not been peer reviewed, but is available to read on Spokane Riverkeeper’s website

The results from the study are straightforward: surprising levels of microplastics were found in every sample taken from the Spokane River, averaging 12 pieces of microplastic pollution per liter of water. Further research is still being conducted, aimed at identifying top sources of microplastics and options for remediation. Currently, Spokane City’s wastewater treatment plant is working towards installing a new membrane filtration process that is expected to remove a majority of microplastics from its effluent. The Spokane County Water Reclamation Facility already has a filtration process that is assumed to remove almost all microplastics.
Knowledge of microplastics remains murky, and until the waters are cleared, it’s difficult to understand the implications of these findings. Known sources of microplastics are widespread: the wear of tires on roads, synthetic fibers like polyester that break down when washed, plastic litter that becomes broken up over time, and more. However, minimizing your impact on microplastic pollution is possible. Try to swap out single use items for reusable products. Ensure you are disposing of all plastic waste responsibly, bagging your waste and keeping debris secure to prevent pollution. Washing synthetic fibers can release plastic particles, and products such as the Guppyfriend washing bag, Cora Ball, or specially-designed washer machine filters*, are designed to prevent fibers from being released into the wastewater system. 

In situations that are confusing or discouraging, focus on the basics: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Reduce your consumption, and pay special attention to the single-use items you are using. Reuse what is possible, and recycle your basic materials like paper, cardboard, metal, and plastic bottles and tubs. If you’re concerned about plastic pollution, consider getting a group of friends together to clean up a polluted area with Spokane County’s Team Up to Clean Up project. Alternately, you can volunteer with the Spokane Riverkeeper to help keep the river free from pollution. 

*The views and opinions of authors expressed on the Garbage Goat’s blog do not necessarily state or reflect those of Spokane County and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Mention of a specific product on the Garbage Goat’s blog does not imply endorsement by Spokane County.