If you are what you eat, then you (and all of us) are a living, breathing, sentient amalgam of microplastics. Bon appetit?
Fad diets come and go, but there is one that is particularly unappetizing and unhealthy — and yet we’re all on it.
We all encounter plastic products every day, from bottles and wraps for our food, to household items, to product packaging, to the clothes we wear, to the tires on our cars, and so much more. But when we’re done with plastics, they never truly disappear. They start to breakdown. And when they breakdown to a size less than five millimeters long, they’re classified as “microplastics.”
And microplastics are in the water we drink, and are ingested by the sea creatures and other animals we consume. The WWF International did a study with the University of Newcastle, Australia, which found that, on average “people could be ingesting approximately 5 grams of plastic every week, which is the equivalent weight of a credit card.”
The largest source plastic ingestion, noted the study, is through water, “both bottled and tap, all over the world.” And of all consumables that were researched in this study, those with the “highest recorded plastic levels include shellfish, beer and salt.”
“We have been using plastic for decades but we still don’t really understand the impact of micro- and nano-sized plastic particles on our health,” said Thava Palanisami, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle, who worked on the WWF study. “All we know is that we are ingesting it and that it has the potential to cause toxicity. That is definitely a cause for concern.”
Reuters did a series of infographics based on the study’s findings, and took photos of the toxic non-food in a send-up of gorgeous food photography. Except, in this instance, we learn that, every month, on average, we consume 21 grams of plastic, which is the equivalent in weight of five casino dice, and enough shredded plastic to fill half a rice bowl.
And every six months we consume 125 grams of plastic, which is enough to fill a cereal bowl.
(Visit the Reuters link to see other unsettling photographic comparisons, such as the amount of plastic we eat in an average life time.)
“These findings must serve as a wake-up call to governments,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF International Director General. Not only are plastics polluting our oceans and waterways and killing marine life — it’s in all of us and we can’t escape consuming plastics. Global action is urgent and essential to tackling this crisis.”
Stunningly, the cosmetics industry found use for microplastics, which it calls microbeads. You can find microbeads in shampoos, toothpastes, and exfoliating scrubs. When you use products like these, you are fast-tracking microplastics to the oceans.
According to 5 Gyres, an NGO with a mission “to empower action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, education, and adventure,” consumers in the U.S, release eight billion plastic microbeads into the environment each day. “Once in the water, plastic microbeads attract persistent organic pollutants like flame retardants and other industrial chemicals linked to human health problems—even cancer. These pollutants work their way up the food chain and onto our plates. A study found that one-quarter of all fish sold in California markets had microplastics and fibers in their guts.”
One way to take action is to pledge not to use products with microbeads in them. Both 5 Gyres and another like-minded organization, the Plastic Soup Foundation, offer pledges you can take and more information on how best to avoid microbeads and microplastics. One microbead seems small — hard to even see with the naked eye. But the beads add up, to more than 3 trillion released every year in the U.S. alone.
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