Scientists have discovered that plastics are everywhere in the ocean, in our rivers, and in the air. The smallest pieces blow around on the wind and every year it accumulates. As time goes on there is more of it around because plastic is not natural it does not rot away.
The size of this plastic pollution ranges from microscopically tiny flakes to whole plastic bags, and right up the scale to huge trawler fishing nets. It all endangers all wildlife. It is particularly harmful to marine life, because ingesting this tiny debris is detrimental for their health.
But it does not end there. The impact on human health of the smallest sizes of these plastics in our bodies is the most concerning. It may cause cancer and has been shown to disrupt important cell membranes. At best in all creatures, it tends to hang around and get in the way, and that cannot be good.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are the tiny plastic particles (less the 5mm in size) which break off when plastic is physically damaged or is oxidised.
These particles are so small that many of them can’t be seen without a microscope. But they’re moved around in our rivers and by ocean currents moving huge distances in global circulation patterns, rather like confetti.
It’s only recently that scientists have begun looking for “hot spots” where these particles accumulate. The purpose of such studies is to gather data on the quantity and potential hazards which exist from these small pieces of trash. However, many problems are already known.
Where are Microplastics?
Microplastics are everywhere. They get into our bodies in our food. For example, they can enter through the nostrils of farm animals from the tyre dust blowing off roads.
And even our water supplies are affected when they get into rivers which are used to supply our tap water.
Therefore, many scientists are trying to limit the use of plastics.
Microplastics in Food
Microplastics are found in food. A recent study in Australia found that people ingested up to twenty grams of microplastics each week. In addition, consumers in other countries may be consuming up to four pounds of microplastics every month. Some sources of plastics are likely to harbour toxic chemicals harmful to humans, while others are not.
The Reason for Concern
“How can bits of plastic hurt anyone”, you might ask. After all, plastic is surely just made from long-chain polymers of carbon and hydrogen? Those two elements are some of the most common on earth.
However, the concern does not come from plastic resin when it is pure. Some forms of plastic are used in their pure form with nothing added. Other plastic polymers would be too brittle without the addition of plasticizers. Bulking substances are also added by manufacturers to reduce the cost of plastic materials as well.
What Chemical Additives are in Plastic?
Plastic manufacturers seldom let it be known what added plasticisers their products contain. They say such information is a commercial secret. No information is readily available on any tests they carry out to check how safe their additives are to human health and the environment.
The Menace Nobody Saw Coming
Until now, this was seen as perfectly acceptable. Who would try to eat plastic goods anyway, let alone plastic things not meant to go anywhere near food?
But they never thought ahead to foresee the sheer volume of plastic and how much plastic litter would get into the environment. Nor did people realise how, with it being so close to the density of water would mean that it would drift around for so long. Or how it would break up and millions of tiny bits would wash up concentrating it again on beaches.
Actions You Can Take to Reduce Microplastics in Your Diet
Don’t Put Plastic Containers in the Dishwasher
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding heating plastic in the dishwasher, since some heat-treated plastic can leach chemicals. For this reason, it’s important to avoid the use of plastics in the dishwasher. In the end, it’s important to limit the consumption of all kinds of plastic.
Avoid Buying Products that Contain Microbeads
If you buy products that contain microbeads (in locations where these have not already been banned), you may not realize the negative effect. Some say that they make your bathroom feel a lot grainy. You may inadvertently be ingesting some whenever you use the product.
The World Health Organization’s report on this issue called for more research. And meanwhile it urged governments to ban the production and use of microplastics by 2025.
So, from now on avoid buying cosmetics and other products which contain microbead microplastics such as some toothpastes, and some perfume products.
At the very least, always wash your hands or rinse you mouth out, after using cosmetics or toothpaste containing microplastics.
Eat Seafood in Moderation
We eat seafood contaminated with microplastics all the time. Just vary your diet and don’t eat fish all the time.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have conducted a study on the effects of microplastics on fish, birds, and other animals. And they’re looking into other ways to reduce microplastics in the ocean.
Avoid Eating Processed Foods
Another way to limit microplastics in your body is to stop consuming processed foods that contain microplastics. Unlike traditional meat, which may contain larger particles of plastic, processed foods can have more than 10 percent of microplastics per serving. That’s a lot of plastic!
And this isn’t the only way that microplastics get into our bodies.
Support Action to Curtail the Use of Single Use Plastics
Despite some research progress, there’s still no clear answer on whether microplastics are harmful to human health. Meanwhile, it is quite logical to assume that they are.
Many people are already voting against single-use plastic every time they buy a product choosing the one in a returnable non-plastic bottle. If you are concerned about microplastics simply join the movement and do the same!
Avoid Bottled Water
One of the biggest contributors of microplastics is drinking water. But, according to a recent study, bottled water contains twice as many plastic particles as tap water. So avoid water that comes in plastic bottles.
Fortunately, there’s now a way to reduce the amount of plastic in your tap water by using the microplastic filter available in some filtration products.
Microplastics in the Other Things We Eat
But what about the rest of our diet? There is no definitive answer, but research indicates that microplastics can be found in everything from meat to seaweed. In addition to our drinking water, it’s found in beer and sea salt.
Microplastics are so small and invisible to the naked eye that it’s easy to continue to ingest them inadvertently if they are in our environment (our homes and offices). Ultimately, there is only one way to avoid them and that is for everyone to drastically reduce the single use of plastic packaging and other plastic items.
Microplastics are plastic items that are so tiny that they’re invisibly being washed down the drain and into the ocean pretty much everywhere all the time.
There are a variety of ways to decrease the amount of microplastics in your diet by making diet choices in favour of low microplastic concentration foods.
To limit the microplastics that enter your body still further, the first and most obvious method is to limit your use of microbead based personal care products. If those you commonly use do not include microbeads there are other steps you can take to reduce this peril.
If you are still concerned about your own microplastic consumption look to cleaning up the environment within your living space. There are some steps we can take to reduce the amount of microplastics in our home and global environment through pressure on local politicians for action.
But for the rest of our time, we can still participate in local clean-ups, reduce the amount of plastic in our garbage, and always recycle our waste.