People Eat 50,000+ Microplastics Every Year, New Study Finds
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What’s the last thing you ate? Chances are you took a big bite of plastic.
A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that the average person swallows about 50,000 pieces of plastic per year and inhales about the same amount. Microplastics — bits of plastic invisible to the human eye — are in our food, drinks, air, and increasingly in our stomachs and lungs.
But if eating 50,000 pieces of plastic per year isn’t alarming enough, the true number is likely much higher. The researchers only looked at a small number of foods and drinks. And, drinking bottled water drastically increases the amount of microplastics you consume, The Guardian reports.
“Individuals who meet their recommended water intake through only bottled sources may be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics annually, compared to 4,000 microplastics for those who consume only tap water,” the study reads.
While you may try to reduce your plastic intake by not drinking from plastic bottles or eschewing plastic cutlery, you can’t avoid it all together. The study authors note that microplastics are ubiquitous across ecosystems.
The researchers reviewed 26 previous studies that analyzed the amounts of microplastic particles in fish, shellfish, added sugars, salts, alcohol, tap or bottled water, and air. They then extrapolated U.S. dietary guidelines to calculate how many particle people would eat annually.
The studies available only allowed the researchers to look at a small percentage of foods. “We don’t know a huge amount. There are some major data gaps that need to get filled,” said Kieran Cox, at the University of Victoria in Canada, who led the research, as The Guardian reported.
Foods like bread, processed products, meat, dairy and vegetables, may well contain just as much plastic, he said to The Guardian. “It is really highly likely there is going to be large amounts of plastic particles in these. You could be heading into the hundreds of thousands.”
So, how dangerous is all this plastic in us? The jury is still out, but some pieces are small enough to enter human tissue. Once there, they are able to trigger immune reactions or release toxins, according to the American Chemical Society. And, the evidence on animals isn’t promising — studies show plastics in the ocean harm marine life, slow growth rates, and lower reproductive rates. Two ubiquitous plastics, BPA and phthalates, have been linked to lower sperm counts and decreases in male testosterone levels, according to Business Insider.
Cox told The Guardian that his research changed his own behavior. “I definitely steer away from plastic packaging and try to avoid bottled water as much as possible,” he said.
He added ways that small actions can lead to big impacts. “Removing single-use plastic from your life and supporting companies that are moving away from plastic packaging is going to have a non-trivial impact,” he said.