In recent years, the awareness of our planet's plastic problem is growing. The population is now well-informed about the plastic content in our favorite foods, or so we thought. According to new research, the amount of plastics we consume on a daily basis is significant, particularly in the form of microplastics in food.
Microplastics are what their name suggests. They are small particles of plastic waste that are found in the ocean, soil, and, eventually, the atmosphere. Over time, these pieces of plastic are washed over by waves and currents or worked into the soil, shrinking in size. After years of exposure to the elements, the plastic particles become smaller and smaller, sometimes even microscopic (hence the name).
We know the sad reality that millions of fish and marine life end up consuming large amounts of plastic. Just look at the newest finding of a whale off the coast of the Philippines found dead with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Large or small, plastic particles are finding their way into the bodies of our planet's inhabitants, with horrible health effects.
Naturally, this brings to question whether or not humans are directly affected by microplastics. The short answer is yes; But to what extent? Apparently, it's a more serious and common problem than originally thought.
Microplastics in Food: A Daily Concern
Regardless of culture or diet, every human needs salt. It keeps us hydrated by balancing out the electrolyte levels in our bodies. And while salt has typically been thought of as a safe ingredient to use, it turns out that almost all of the sea salt available on the market contains microplastics.
A study taken from sea salt samples from 16 different companies from 8 countries shows microplastic content within the salt. Some of the samples recorded contained microplastics that were extremely small, coming in at about 160 microns in size. While this may not seem significant in terms of health effects, the reality is that we are consuming plastic, which is riddled with artificial chemicals and cancer-causing agents. Big or small, microplastics don't seem to be a healthy thing to ingest.
Numerous sea salt companies have been discovered with microplastic content in their products
Aside from salt, microplastics in food are increasingly common. Reports show that shellfish, in particular, have high amounts of microplastics that they ingest from their environments. The small microplastics then end up in the human body and are unable to be digested. Over time, these microplastics accumulate in the body and cannot be broken down.
Drinking water is another significant source of microplastics that end up being consumed by humans. There are five main sources of microplastics in drinking water: Synthetic fibers, paint dust, tire dust, fishing equipment, and microbeads. While tap water contains microplastics as well, the real threat is in bottled water. According to a study by Orb Media, 93% of bottled water is contaminated by microplastics. Plus, it was discovered that on average, a single bottle of water contains 10.4 microplastic particles that are larger than 100 microns in size (about the width of a strand of hair). And considering that over 1,500 plastic bottles are used every second in the United States, that number is really adding up in a lot of bodies around the country.
Human Health in a Plastic World
Plastic hasn't been around all that long. The first plastics were created in the early 1900s but didn't become a mainstream commodity until the World War II era. Because it's been around for only roughly a century, there isn't much information on what exactly plastic does to the human body upon exposure and consumption. That being said, it is known that chemical exposure to the body can be harmful, if not deadly. Since plastic is made from chemicals and toxic materials, one can only assume that the long-term effects will not be beneficial.
The long-term effects of plastics on human health are somewhat unknown
There are many different types of plastic used for everything from packaging to clothing. Regardless of the product, the plastic materials and fillers used are not only unable to be broken down quickly, but they are also proving to cause some major health concerns for humans.
A whole host of health problems has been on the rise since the introduction of plastic. In men and women, fertility problems, endocrine disruptions, birth defects, and certain types of cancer are all being traced back to the chemicals within specific types of plastic. Whether it is exposure from the manufacturing process or the leaking of chemicals into food and water, humans are consuming chemicals, and the results are not looking good.
Aside from consumption, microplastics have other methods of sneaking into the human body. Take inhalation for example; The average human takes 12 breaths per minute. In each of these breaths, particles of dust, dander, and gases are present, as well as microplastics, depending on the size of the particle and the location. These particles are often trapped within the body before they can reach major organs. However, some particles are able to find their way into the lungs. Once there, they cause localized biological responses, such as inflammation and toxicity of the blood.
From birth to death, humans are in near-constant contact with plastic. Microplastics in food, our water sources, and even the air we breathe are all affected by the ever-present power of plastics. But, this reality shouldn't come as a surprise to us. Post World War II, we've allowed for plastic to consume our world. Its cheap and accessible nature made it possible for plastic to become a normalized substance worldwide, regardless of the development stage. What we are left with now is a world that is using plastic as fast as we can create it, with no solution to get rid of it once it has served its purpose.
Microplastics in food is definitely a concerning thought. After all, everyone needs to eat to survive. So next time you're about to take a bite out of your sandwich, consider the sad reality that our planet is facing, and try to make a change. Whether it's packing your lunch in a glass container or switching to a reusable shopping bag, try to make an effort to cut plastic out of your life (and diet) one day at a time.