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What is ‘The Young Darwinian Microplastic Challenge’? Overview and FAQ’s

The challenge is for all of us, especially students, to look for microplastics in the environment and investigate the effects of this pollution.

Why take part in The Young Darwinian Microplastic Challenge?

Where can the The Young Darwinian Microplastic Challenge be done?

Everywhere: Rivers, lakes, beaches, puddles, dust, in any country in the world.

When can the The Young Darwinian Microplastic Challenge be done?

NOW – Whenever it is safe.

Why look for microplastic fibre, and not all microplastics?

Pieces of microplastic that have come from plastic bags, bottles, packaging, and many more origins, are small and irregular shaped objects. At the moment it is very difficult to identify these amongst other particles like sand and glass. The chemicals and specialised equipment needed for identification are not safe and too expensive to be used by school students. However it is possible to identify the microplastic fibres, therefore the challenge is starting with looking for these in our environment. 

How to detect microplastic fibres link

I don’t have a microscope. How do I access one?

Can I still submit other projects to ‘The Young Darwinian’ journal?

Yes, they are welcome and we would love to hear about them. The journal is for all science, technology, engineering and Mathematics. Submit your project using the ‘submit’ on the front page of the site.

Do I have to do it on my own?

No, it can be done alone, with a friend, with a group of friends, with your class.

Can I get help?

Yes, ask a friend, a teacher, a parent, anyone to help. But you must acknowledge what help you have been given in your write-up.

Am I too young to do the challenge?

No one is too young, but young children will have to be supervised. This must be acknowledged.

Am I too old to do the challenge?

This challenge is for everyone, but especially for young people.

How do I know how to search for and find micro plastic fibres?

Link to How to page

Where can I get ideas from for microplastic or other projects?

Microplastics projects page due shortly

Check out the ideas section link

Does it have to be written in English?

You can write up in any language but it will also have to be translated into English. Submit both language versions together. We can help to get your English translation right.

Can I get my work published?

Yes. Submit on the ‘submit’ form on the front page for the opportunity to publish on line and/or in the hard copy of the journal, The Young Darwinian.

The future

The Young Darwinian is working on making it possible for students to identify non fibre microplastics. This is being done with the CALIN project.

Further experiments to investigate whether microplastics have any effects on plants, animals and humans, are being planned. Information about this will be posted as soon as possible. 

Do you have ideas for experiments using microplastics?

Let us know and we will try to help and advise.

What are microplastics?

What is plastic? What are Microplastics?

What is plastic? 

All plastic originates from crude oil. Crude oil is a fossil fuel made mainly from carbon and hydrogen molecules. Making crude oil into fuel is controversial due to its impact on global warming

When was plastic invented? How much is in the world today?

The first plastic was invented in 1907 but plastic became more and more popular after about 1950. Today, the estimate is that for every man, woman and child on the planet, there is more than a ton of plastic.

What is microplastic?

Plastic never goes away, but it can ‘disappear’ because it gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, mainly in the oceans. When it gets to less than 5mm in diameter it is defined as Microplastic, but it is often much smaller than this. For comparison, a grain of rice is about 5mm, a salt crystal is 15 times less than this at 0.3mm. A human hair is about 0.1mm diameter.

Primary microplastics, that is when the plastic is specially made that way, include nurdles and micro-beads. The plastics industry make billions of tiny nurdles each year. They are little lumps of plastic, 1-5mm in diameter. Nurdles are used as the starting point for almost all the  plastics we can make, such as bottles and bags. Nurdles hit the headlines in 2017 when a shipping container spilt about 2 billion of these into the sea in South Africa.

Designer Microbeads, developed in the 1980’s, are little bits of plastic made specially for the cosmetic industry. These are up to 1mm in diameter and are used in toothpastes and some soaps.

Secondary microplastic, comes from the breakup of ‘big’ plastic and mainly happens in the oceans under the influence of light and wave motion. The bits of plastic get smaller and smaller but they are still plastic and instead of forming a floating garbage patch, they produce a sort of plastic soup.

Microplastic fibres don’t fit neatly into either the primary or secondary category. The fibres are deliberately made this size, so are primary, but are then manufactured into clothing, fishing nets and road tyres. Many fibres are released into the environment during this process. But the fibres also come away from the finished product, so are secondary. Hundreds of thousands of fibres are released during washing.

Where have microplastics been found?

Microplastics have been found in rivers, lakes, drinking water, beer, table salt and seafood. They have been found at the top of mountains and in the Arctic snow. In studies on animals, the highest concentrations of microplastics were found in the stomach and intestines, but smaller amounts have also been detected in blood, lymph and the liver.

Is plastic biodegradable? 

No, it will get smaller and smaller but it will never disappear. The  global microplastic load is increasing daily, and it is ‘invisible’.

What is the school workshop programme?

The school workshop programme is available on request through info@theyoungdarwinian.com

The team will come to the school and run a half day workshop leading the students through the activities to make and find microplastic fibres. All the equipment needed is provided.

Activities link

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