When we talk about microplastics, as in microplastic pollution, we’re actually talking about a variety of chemical compounds. With the everyday use of terms like “plastic soup” used to describe the massive problem of plastics in our oceans, however, the complexity of what we face can be lost.

In their just-published article in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Chelsea M. Rochman et al. recommend that microplastics ((plastic particles <5 mm in size) be considered “a suite or class of contaminants, in the same way we do for pesticides, trace metals, or flame retardants. Microplastics are diverse; they come from many different product types; incorporate a broad range of sizes, colors, and morphologies; are composed of various polymers; and include a broad array of chemical additives. This diversity is important to consider, and thinking of them like we do other classes of contaminants may help us advance methods for sampling and analysis and help us better understand the sources from which they enter the environment; their fate in water, sediment, and organisms; their toxicity; and relevant policies for mitigation.

So, at the same time we’re encouraging all consumers to limit use of all plastics and to keep all plastics out of all lakes, rivers, streams and oceans, we must encourage all legislators, regulators, engineers and scientists to closely consider the origins, behaviors and polluting effects of every different type of plastic.