How to Avoid Eating MicroPlastic
Updated: Aug 14
Did you know that tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics have been found in our blood? Scientists have been studying these microplastics and discovered that they are not just in our environment, but they have actually made their way into our bodies. This is a bit worrying because we don't yet know how these tiny plastic pieces might affect our health. It's important for scientists to keep researching this and for everyone to work together to find ways to reduce the amount of plastic pollution around us.
How much Plastic do we Eat?
Research has shown that people may unconsciously ingest 37,613 – 89,294 microplastics a year due to the use of one plastic cup every 4–5 days.
But also seemingly ‘plastic-free’ food can contain microplastics. Research has shown that the number of plastic particles/kg sugar was, on average, 343.7. But also meat often has microplastics because it is usually packed in plastic.
The exact amount depends on a lot of factors like your age and sex but also your diet, where you live, and where you shop. Using an average diet the annual microplastic consumption ranges from 39.000 to 52.000 particles. This increases to 74.000 and 121.000 particles when all the recommended water intake is through bottled water.
Particles are a bit of an abstract term but overall we consume about:
5 grams of microplastics per week
21 grams of microplastic per month
125 grams of microplastic in 6 months
250 grams of microplastic per year
What Happens if you Eat Plastic?
There is a lot of variation in microplastic. Research has found that the shape, concentration, and time of exposure to microplastics play a role in how harmful microplastic can be to cells in our body. Some cells were more sensitive to microplastics than others. Scientists found that even small amounts of microplastics, like 10 tiny particles in a drop of water, can have a negative effect on a cell and could even impact our overall health.
The average weight of microplastics released by plastic cups and containers is different, but also the colors and shapes (cubes, spheres, and rods) are different. Each of these different shapes has a different effect on our health but also on the environment.
Another research has shown that mammals often have more stomach issues and experience coughing when they consume food from disposable plastic takeaway containers. They found that the bacteria in the stomach change when you even once in a while eat food from plastic take-out containers.
How do microplastics end up in our system?
Through the Air
Microplastics are in the air these end up there various ways:
Road Traffic and Tire Wear: Vehicle tires contain synthetic rubber and other plastic components. As vehicles move on roads, the friction between the tires and the pavement can release microplastic particles into the air. These particles can be transported by wind and dispersed over large areas.
Synthetic Fiber Shedding: Synthetic fibers, like those found in polyester clothing or carpets, can shed tiny microplastic fibers during use and washing. These microfibers can become airborne, such as when clothes are being dried or when carpets are being vacuumed.
Industrial Processes: Industrial activities, such as plastic manufacturing, recycling, and waste management, can release microplastics into the air. Processes like grinding, cutting, or shredding plastic materials can generate airborne microplastic particles.
Burning and Incineration: When plastics are burned, either intentionally or unintentionally, such as in open fires, waste incineration, or wildfires, they can release microplastic particles and toxic chemicals into the air.
Once microplastics are airborn, they can be transported over long distances and eventually deposited onto land or water surfaces. They can also be inhaled by humans and animals, potentially causing adverse health effects.
There are numerous consumable products that contain plastic. Here are some examples:
Bottled Water: Many bottled water brands use plastic bottles typically made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. Especially the cap of the bottle is notorious for releasing lots of microplastics. This is probably why even water from glass bottles contains microplastic.
Food Packaging: Various food items, such as snack bags, candy wrappers, and microwaveable meal containers, often contain plastic components or are entirely made of plastic.
Beverage Containers: Apart from water bottles, beverage containers like soda bottles, juice bottles, and sports drink bottles often contain plastic.
Disposable Cutlery and Plates: Disposable forks, spoons, knives, and plates are frequently made from plastic materials such as polystyrene or polypropylene.
Wrappers and Packaging: Plastic is widely used for wrapping food items like bread, cheese, and produce to extend their shelf life.
Food Storage Containers: Plastic containers used for storing leftovers or packing lunches are prevalent. These can be made of different types of plastic, including polypropylene and polycarbonate.
Plastic Bags: Single-use plastic bags provided by grocery stores for your fruits and veggies are usually high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE).
Personal Care Products: Many personal care products like toothpaste and floss contain plastic. But also skincare can contain microplastics in their products, not just the package.
Cosmetics: Cosmetic products like lipstick and mascara often contain plastic components. Research has found that almost 9 out of 10 major cosmetic brands contain microplastics.
How to Avoid Eating Plastic
To reduce the chances of eating plastic, there are several steps you can take:
Minimize Single-Use Plastics: Avoid using single-use plastic items like plastic cutlery, straws, and disposable water bottles. Instead, opt for reusable alternatives made from materials like metal, glass, or bamboo.
Choose Fresh and Whole Foods: Purchase fresh, unpackaged fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods whenever possible. This reduces the likelihood of consuming plastic packaging that may contain microplastics.
Be Mindful of Packaging: Pay attention to the packaging of the products you buy. Look for items with minimal or no plastic packaging. Choose products packaged in paper, glass, or other eco-friendly materials instead.
Bring Your Own Bags: Bring your own reusable bags when you go grocery shopping. This eliminates the need for plastic bags provided by stores.
Avoid Microwaving Plastic: When heating food in the microwave, transfer it to a microwave-safe glass or ceramic container instead of using plastic containers. Heat can cause plastic to leach harmful chemicals into food.
Filter Your Drinking Water: Use a water filter to purify your tap water. This can help reduce the consumption of plastic water bottles, which may release microplastics.
Wash and Store Food Properly: Thoroughly wash fruits, vegetables, and other food items before consumption. Properly store food in containers made of glass or stainless steel to avoid contact with plastic packaging.
Choose Natural Fiber Clothing: Synthetic fibers like polyester can shed microplastic fibers when washed. Opt for clothing made from natural fibers like cotton, hemp, or linen.
Support Plastic-Free Initiatives: Look for companies and organizations that actively promote plastic-free alternatives and support their initiatives. This encourages the use of sustainable materials and reduces plastic consumption.
By making conscious choices and adopting sustainable habits, we can contribute to minimizing our intake of plastic and help protect both our health and the environment.