The use of plastic is one of the conveniences of life, but what if I told you that you are consuming small plastic particles in the food you eat and the water you drink, or even just by taking a breath. What if I told you that these microplastics may interfere with your immune system and trigger the onset of (chronic) diseases, promote pathogenic bacteria, and possibly alter the gene capacity and expression of gut microbiota. What if I told you that we don’t have time to ask, “what if?” but that it is rather a time to ask, “what now?”.
Despite increasing awareness, the potentially major consequences of chronic exposure to microplastics have been largely neglected. Air pollution has already been known to cause millions of early deaths a year, but after the discovery of tiny plastic particles in the blood of animals and people, the concern for possible unknown health implications has shone the light on microplastics. If you are wondering how these tiny particles ended up in our food and water, the simple answer is, firstly from the massive amount of plastic waste that has broken down, over time, and made its way into lakes, rivers, and oceans, which eventually contaminate our food and water. Secondly, those wonderfully convenient plastic food containers that you purchase daily have been contaminating your food with tiny plastic particles for decades, which begs the question; why are we still using plastic to package our food?
No research has yet been done to study the direct effects microplastics might have on people, but the fact that we are being exposed to a large number of microplastics every day is undeniable.
“Scientists think we may ingest anywhere from dozens, to more than 100, 000 microplastic particles each day ––as a useful visual it could be around the mass of a credit card’s worth in the space of a year. Even the synthetic clothing we wear can shed fibers ––some studies have revealed textiles to be the major source of airborne microplastics” (Williams. 2021).
The limited research that has been done so far focused on exposing human cells or tissues to microplastics and the effects on animals, such as rats or mice. The data gathered from this study presents more than enough cause for concern. According to Dr. Nicole Williams (2021), the results show that microplastics might act as irritants, like asbestos fibers that are known to inflame the lungs and cause cancer. This research also emphasised the potentiality for metabolic disturbance, neurotoxicity, and interference with normal hormone function, which can lead to weight gain and reduced fertility. Even more disturbing, certain microplastics, such as flame retardants, are thought to interfere with fetal brain development, which can affect normal brain development in children, and with the production of microplastics estimated to double by 2050, the need for action is now. What can you do to limit the number of microplastics you consume?
Drink water from your tap. Plastic bottled water has about double the microplastics level of tap water.
Don’t heat food in plastic containers. Heated plastics leach chemicals into food.
Avoid buying food in plastic containers. Opt instead for glass or biodegradable containers.
Eat more fresh produce. These products are less likely to expose you to unwanted chemicals.
Minimize household dust. Dust can expose you to harmful chemicals. Vacuuming regularly can help reduce household dust exposure. You can always do more to limit your exposure to plastic, but the reality is that large-scale solutions are required to reduce the number of plastic used overall. Better solutions are needed to replace plastics in the world we are living in now.