AFTER studies showed that plastics are present in our drinking water and table salt, a new research revealed an even more disturbing reality- plastics in our food.
Microplastics, those tiny pieces of plastics that are so light they can float in the air, are in our food. This is according to a recently published study in the journal Environmental Pollution.
The study was conducted by researchers from Scotland's Heriot-Watt University, who found that every meal we eat could contain, on average, more than 100 microplastic particles. They estimate that the average person may consume anywhere between 13,731 and 68,415 microplastic particles each year, simply by eating at home. One of the findings of the study is that there are more plastic in the air in our homes than in seafood coming from habitat known to be flooded with microplastics.
The plastic particles most likely come from synthetic fabrics and soft furnishings, which gradually break down before binding to household dust which eventually finds its way to our food.
In previous studies, confirmed sources of microplastics are the washing machine and dryrers. Synthetic textiles like fleece, polyester, Spandex, and acrylic shed fibers with every wash. Our clothes are emitting plastic due to normal wear and tear in the same way a cat sheds fur.
Scientists still don't know much about the health impact of ingesting microplastics. But there’s a study done by the Food and Drugs Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the conclusion is this:
“Concerning the fate of plastic in the human body and the possible adverse health effects, much remains unknown. It is thought that only the smallest particles (1.5 µm or less) will penetrate into the capillaries of the organs and the remaining will be excreted (Yoo, Doshi, & Mitragotri, 2011). Plastic is suspected to interact with the immune system, to cause oxidative stress and changes to the DNA (EFSA, 2016 & Brown et al., 2001).
“Based on the available scientific evidence, it is safe to state that microplastics neither seem to pose a significant food safety threat and the health benefits associated with the intake of fishery products will exceed the potential risks.
“Nonetheless, there are many knowledge gaps such as toxicological data of commonly ingested plastics, the potential impact on the toxicity of microplastics of cooking or processing at high temperature, and the specific pathways for translocation, distribution and absorption of nanoplastic particles within the tissues and organs of the human body.”
So should we ban plastic all together? The issue is not simple. An article I read from weforum.com sums it up - the very properties that make plastic so dangerous - its durability and long lifespan - also make it a great asset.
A material that will not die or be destroyed for five hundred years is valuable. We can reuse it almost endlessly. The problem is not plastic itself. The problem is using it irresponsibly. The solution is not to ban plastic, but to ensure that it is used responsibly and recycled properly.
Still, I believe that whenever there is an alternative, a plastic product should be banned. A classic example are thin plastic bags called “sando” bags. They are short-lived, used only once, but stays in the environment for hundreds of years. These are the materials that often end up in sewer and rivers. Reusable bags can easily replace these plastic bags.