How to Not Eat Microplastics

Microplastics are one of the biggest environmental concerns of our time. Trillions of pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm in length can be found throughout our natural environment, including at the bottom of the ocean. Not only is this bad for the planet, but it could have a significant negative impact on human health, because there are so many microplastics in our environment that people cannot help but eat, drink and breathe them in.

There are several estimates of how much plastic the average person eats, which we will discuss further below, but any amount of plastic is unhealthy for a person to consume. For many people who learn about the scale of the microplastics problem – both in our environment and in our bodies – their first priority is to learn more about how they can cut down on their intake of plastic particles.

Here, in support of our Microplastics Out of Our Drains (MOOD) campaign, Lanes will explain how to not eat microplastics; although with the current volume of plastic particles found throughout our environment, it is likely impossible to avoid consuming microplastics altogether. However, if we take positive steps to remove plastic from our environment and reconsider our relationship to packaging, single-use plastics, and other sources of plastic in our diets, we may eventually be able to eradicate the problem for good.

How much microplastic do we consume?

There are no definitive estimates of how much microplastic the average human being consumes, because this is very difficult to measure. However, several studies have been conducted and more are underway, as the scale of the plastic pollution problem becomes increasingly evident. While we cannot be certain about the exact volume of plastic each person consumes, we know that it represents a large amount and could already be affecting our health.

Research from the Plastic Health Coalition suggests that the average American consumes between 74,000 and 121,000 plastic particles per year, although exact figures depend on the age and sex of the individual person. While this may sound like a very large number, the researchers who reached this conclusion believe that it is an underestimate because, during their study, they could only analyse some 15% of the food participants consumed.

Other studies suggest that humans may eat as much as 5g of plastic each week, the equivalent of a credit card, or up to 20kg over the course of a lifetime. Needless to say, there could be significant health problems associated with consuming this much plastic; human pathogens like Vibrio cholerae bond more strongly to plastic than to natural surfaces, meaning that we may be ingesting pathogens alongside the plastic we inadvertently consume.

How can I avoid consuming as much plastic?

Much of the plastic in our diet is thought to come from packaging. The Plastic Soup Foundation estimates that plastic bottles are one of the primary sources of debris. Microplastics often emerge when larger pieces of plastic break down, and bottled water is estimated to contain an average of 100 microplastics per litre. Cans and glass bottles are more suitable alternatives as both are more easily recycled and generally contain a much smaller volume of plastic, although this is by no means a perfect solution.

Plastic debris is also created whenever you cut, twist or tear open plastic packaging, and this is another way in which microplastic can get into your food. While it is difficult to prevent this, the best option is to avoid buying foods with unnecessary plastic packaging. Any plastic pieces that you can see when opening plastic packaging can be easily removed from food, and you should recycle as much of the packaging as you can once you are done with it.

While it is worrying to know that we consume microplastics every day, in small quantities they are unlikely to do any harm to the body. Still, when taken along with the microplastic in our environment, it begins to add up. For example, microplastics are also found in tap water and even in the air we breathe, which makes it impossible to avoid consuming it entirely. This is why we need urgent action to remove microplastics from our environment.

However, with more countries committing to bans on plastic microbeads, imposing restrictions on businesses whose operations generate plastic debris, and working to clean up the environment, we hope that we can reverse this problem before it gets worse. This is why our MOOD campaign supports work to reduce environmental plastic from all sources, and positive actions by businesses, governments and individuals to help everyone to consume less plastic.

To learn more, visit our MOOD campaign hub.

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