Microplastics And Your Health
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Each day you interact with plastic. Take a shower, and you’ll notice your shampoo and conditioner bottle is made of plastic. That glass of milk you poured for breakfast came in a plastic carton. The honey bottle you used to sweeten your oats is most likely plastic.
Only it’s not just consumables. The toys your children play with, the remote control for your television, and the tap nozzles on your hose pipe are all made of plastic.
But what happens when that toy breaks, or you through an empty milk carton away? Where does it go?
While businesses are routinely looking for ways to repurpose plastic, much of it goes to landfills and the ocean. There they break down and release microplastics, and like it or not, you’re unknowingly ingesting those microplastics. But what are they, should you be worried, and can you prevent your consumption of microplastics? Absolutely. Keep reading or skip ahead using our quick links.
We Cover The Following Topics In This Article
- What are microplastics?
- Are microplastics harmful to humans?
- Can your body get rid of microplastics?
- 6 ways to reduce your exposure to microplastics
- Next steps
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are small plastic particles measuring less than 5 millimetres in length (sometimes invisible to the naked eye). They can come in various forms, including beads, fibres, and fragments, from sources, such as industrial processes, cosmetics, and the breakdown of larger plastic items.
They’ve been found in our oceans, rivers, lakes, and the air. Unfortunately, they’re beginning to negatively impact marine life, wildlife, and our health. In fact, microplastics have recently been detected in human breastmilk, colons, lung tissue, and blood.
It’s in the food we eat and the water we drink. But is it dangerous?
Are microplastics harmful to humans?
The truth is we don’t know. Microplastics are a relatively recent discovery, so their potential harm to humans is still being studied. Here’s what we do know.
Microplastics have been found in tap and bottled water, seafood, and the air we breathe. We are possibly ingesting and inhaling microplastics daily — a foreign, unnatural substance that doesn’t disintegrate. That can’t be good for us.
Further, some studies have found that microplastics can contain harmful chemicals and pollutants that can leach into the body. These particles can also act as carriers for pathogens and unhealthy microbes.
We also know that microplastics can absorb pollutants from the environment, making them more toxic.
So while more research needs to be conducted to understand the full extent of the risks to human health, we can deduce that microplastics are harmful. And we need to do what we can to avoid ingesting them because not much is known about how to rid the body of microplastics.
Can your body get rid of microplastics?
Again, as this is a new area of research, we don’t know how effective the human body is in eliminating microplastics. There is still so much that’s unknown.
Some studies have suggested that microplastics can pass through the digestive system and be excreted, while others have found that they can accumulate in tissues and organs.
While your body can excrete foreign particles, like microplastics, through your faeces, they can also get stuck in your gut, liver, lymphatic system and other organs. White blood cells will try to attack and destroy the microplastic. Only it can’t. Instead, it will engulf the microplastic and die triggering an inflammatory response. Leading to more and more white blood cells attempting to remove the unwanted microplastic.
Chronic inflammation is a prelude to chronic diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and depression.
So the long-term health impacts of microplastics on the human body can be potentially life-threatening. With time, we can more fully understand the effects of microplastics and how they can be eliminated or metabolised.
What we do know is you are unknowingly ingesting microplastics. But you can reduce your risk. Just follow these six suggestions.
6 ways to reduce your exposure to microplastics
Microplastics are everywhere. They’re in our water and food. They’re in the air we breathe so we can’t 100% avoid ingesting them. But there are several ways you can reduce your exposure to microplastics:
1. Avoid using products that contain microbeads
Microbeads are small manufactured plastic beads no bigger than one millimetre in dimension. These are often used in some personal care products, such as toothpaste and exfoliating scrubs. Many manufacturers are choosing to phase out the use of microbeads in their products. So when you’re out shopping next, check that the brands you love to buy don’t contain them.
2. Reuse rather than recycle
Preventing your exposure to microplastics starts by rewiring your mindset. Not all plastic can be recycled. Some can only be repurposed or reused. So try to reduce your use of single-use plastics, such as water bottles and plastic bags, which can eventually break down into microplastics.
3. Filter your water
While municipal water treatment can be effective in removing microplastics, the municipality in question needs to be using either the electrocoagulation-electroflotation or membrane filtration process. If they don’t, you’ll need to use a water filter or water pitcher with a filter. Be careful of brands that claim they remove microplastics. Rather understand which ones have been tested in a laboratory.
4. Eat sustainably sourced seafood
Again, do your research about the brand you’re purchasing from. How was the fish farmed? If they’re selling wild fish, are they making efforts to fish sustainably? Try to avoid fish that are known to have high microplastic contamination levels. These are mussels, clams, scallops and oysters.
5. Support legislation and regulations that aim to reduce the use and release of microplastics into the environment
Change takes time. But as more people vote with their wallets and refrain from using, buying or dealing with brands that don’t prioritise the reduction or removal of microplastics and instead show support for those that do, there is added pressure and incentive for companies and manufacturers to implement stricter protocols throughout their value chain.
6. Recognise that microplastics are present in the air
To reduce exposure, consider using air filters for your home and car. Also, consider not wearing synthetic clothes since they can release microfibers into the air when washed.
To recap, microplastics can potentially be incredibly harmful to you. While they are still being studied, we know that minimising your exposure is needed. Know the brands you buy, test the water you drink, filter your air, and purchase only sustainably sourced food.
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