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You May Be Swallowing a Credit Card’s Weight in Plastic Weekly, Says New Study

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Want a drink to wash down that credit card?


It may not sound appetizing, but a new study found that the global average of microplastic ingestion could be five grams every week. That's about the same weight as a credit card. Put another way, it's a teaspoonful of plastic, 2,000 tiny bits of plastic; you are inadvertently swallowing every single week, according to CNN.

The research was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for its report No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion from Nature to People and executed by the microplastics research team at the University of Newcastle, Australia.

The largest source of plastic ingestion comes from water — both bottled and tap. The average person consumes as many as 1,769 tiny plastic bits per week just by drinking water, as CNN reported.

"In water it's mostly fibers which could come from industrial activities," said Thava Palanisami, Ph.D., a University of Newcastle researcher and one of the study's co-authors, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's released with other gases and chemicals and this can then ultimately sink into the freshwater bodies and that gets into the drinking water."

Shellfish came in as the second most common source of plastic in a person's diet. Beer and salt also ranked high as significant sources of plastic, the study showed, according to the New York Post.

The findings, collated from analyzing 52 peer-reviewed studies, are the first to estimate the weight of plastics consumed by individual humans.

"For the first time, this study offers precise estimations on the amounts of plastic ingested by humans," said Palanisami, as reported by The Brussels Times. That weight is five grams every week, or 250 grams over the course of a year.

That number is a conservative estimate too since the study only looked at a few staples. Due to the limitations of the studies the researchers reviewed, they did not look at "rice, pasta, bread, milk, utensils, cutlery, toothpaste, toothbrushes, food packaging and a multitude of other sources that would only add to the amount consumed," as a summary of the study's methodology says.

This study comes on the heels of another paper released last week that found people might eat up to 124,000 pieces of plastic per year. And, people who drink bottled water may add another 90,000 pieces of plastics to their annual intake.

"It is very clear that the issue of microplastics is a global one," said Kala Senathirajah, a co-lead researcher on the University of Newcastle paper, as CNN reported. "Even if countries clean up their backyard, it doesn't mean they will be safe as those [microplastic] particles could be entering from other sources."

The WWF said the results of the study should alert governments to tackle the scourge of plastics with a global treaty that mandates reduction targets from companies and governments, according to CNN.

"Plastics are polluting not only our oceans and waterways but also marine life and humans. Urgent, global action is needed to face this crisis," the WWF said in a statement, as reported by The Brussels Times.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.