A new study put out by the University of Newcastle in Australia has revealed that humans are eating, swallowing or breathing in about 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic each week, an amount equal to the weight of one credit card. That’s some literal food for thought as we consider how to curb our addiction to plastic.
According to the Researchers: “While the awareness of microplastics and their impact on the environment is increasing, this study has helped to provide an accurate calculation of ingestion rates for the first time,” said Thava Palanisami, the project co-lead and microplastics researcher at the University of Newcastle.
Where’s the Plastic Coming From? According to the study, the biggest sources of plastics that humans ingest are:
- The single largest source of plastic ingestion is through water, both bottled and tap, all over the world.
- Large regional variations are reflected again, with twice as much plastic found in the US or India than in European or Indonesian water.
- Of the consumables studied, those with the highest recorded plastic levels include shellfish, beer and salt.
Other research has shown that microplastics, including microfibers and microbeads, are found in all sorts of foods that humans eat.
The Effect on Human Health: Currently science lacks evidence that microplastics are affecting human health but we certainly need more research. But, as NatGeo recently pointed out, plastic isn’t one substance, it’s many:
- Plastic comes in many forms and contains a wide range of additives—pigments, ultraviolet stabilizers, water repellents, flame retardants, stiffeners such as bisphenol A (BPA), and softeners called phthalates—that can leach into their surroundings.
- Some of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function, even contributing to weight gain.
- Flame retardants may interfere with brain development in fetuses and children; other compounds that cling to plastics can cause cancer or birth defects.
- A basic tenet of toxicology holds that the dose makes the poison, but many of these chemicals—BPA and its close relatives, for example—appear to impair lab animals at levels some governments consider safe for humans.
Why This Matters: Plastic pollution is becoming a top issue for people around the world as it is so pervasive and can literally be found from the depths of the Mariana Trench to the top of Mt. Everest. What’s scary though is that we’re ingesting plastic each week yet we don’t know what the long term consequences are–especially when it comes to how this affects children and their developing bodies. Hopefully, this study can help fuel more awareness about plastics and encourage consumers to pressure companies and retailers to do away with unnecessary plastic packaging and support closed loop systems.
Good News: Maine and Vermont pass plastic bag bans on the same day.