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Updated:3/8/2022

What are nanoplastics and where do they originate from?

Currently, there is no clear definition of nanoplastics, as they do not have a specific composition and do not consist of a specific material (uniform material). In the scientific communities, reference is often made to size, with nanoplastic particles ranging between 1nm and 1µm (1000nm).

Where do nanoplastics end up?

Nanoplastics are microscopically small plastic particles and therefore cannot be seen with the naked eye. Since these particles are extremely small, they are easily dispersed in nature and in our surroundings. Nanoplastics have been found in all aquatic ecosystems, in dust particles in the air and as secondary nanoplastics in food and household products. Since the particles are so light, they also float to the surface of water, unlike microplastics that will often sink to the seabed. This means that any organisms that may consume nanoplastics become more vulnerable.

Possible consequences

Studies conducted on fish and other organisms show that nanoplastics are likely absorbed into the bloodstream through cells in the stomach and intestines via a mechanism referred to as endocytosis. Small plastic particles can also bind to various environmental toxins, which are then transported further on. In a study on oysters, it was found that nanoparticles made from plastic are intracellularly accumulated (inside the cell) and may deliver absorbed toxins directly into the cells. How large a dose and which environmental toxins are actually transported through the gastrointestinal system and possibly further into the bloodstream, as well as the actual threat this could pose to animals, organisms and us over time remains uncertain.