Microplastics in Humans

It’s not breaking news that the uses of our plastics have a major effect on the environment. Australian supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths are now banning plastic bags at their checkouts since there has been a push from various groups and industries to implement more socially responsible standards. But have you thought about the impact you are having on the environment?

I bet you use soaps, shower gels, shampoo, cleansers, exfoliators, and even foundations. Microbeads are one of the most well-known ingredient in our cosmetics that causes harm to the environment, but there is another type of plastic that causes just as much harm to you as it does the environment.

Microplastics

Microplastics are tiny plastic granules used as scrubbers in cosmetics and air-blasting, and small plastic fragments derived from the breakdown of macroplastics.

Since the mass production of plastics began in the 1940s, microplastic contamination of the marine environment has been a growing problem, exponentially to the amount of plastic being manufactured with 230 million tonnes of plastic being produced globally in 2009.

Whilst the societal benefits of plastic are far-reaching, microplastics have been the subject of increasing environmental concern.

Researchers know that microplastics get into aquatic habitats from many different sources. These range from tiny fibres that come off the synthetic fabrics of our clothing, to bits of car tire that wear off on roads and make their way through storm drains into waterways.

They also vary in size such that they can be consumed by marine animals both big and microscopic. What a lot of people don’t realise is that when it rains, it washes plastics and fibres into the ocean and animals of all sizes eat them, then we go fishing or harvest oysters, then they end up on a bed of ice at our local supermarket. While eating the ‘fresh’ seafood, we are also eating tiny plastic particles.

“[Microplastics have] infiltrated every level of the food chain in marine environments and likely fresh water, and so now we’re seeing it come back to us on our dinner plates,” – Chelsea Rochman, University of Toronto ecologist

Observed in fish and lower organisms, micro/nanoplastics exposure effects inflammation and the production of reactive oxygen species are plausible human cellular reactions to toxic insults. However, since there is no human empirical data (e.g., epidemiological) or mammalian (e.g., rodent) data assessing any effects of environmental micro/nanoplastics, predicting any pathology or disease states from these molecular and cellular levels is difficult.

As shown in the video below, scientists are discovering new ways to keep micro plastics out of our foods. It came down to the bottom line of ‘reduce the use of plastic’. As mentioned in the video, the plastics aren’t just the stereotypical straw or shopping bag, but the fibres like nylon from fleece jackets.

How Much Plastic Do You Want in Your Oysters And Clams?

Toothpastes, soap scrubs, fleece jackets and more are putting a lot of plastics in the ocean — and into the shellfish we eat. How do we figure out where these micro plastics come from and how to keep them out of our food? Science! (from KCTS 9 and EarthFix)

Posted by NPR on Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Rochman concludes that it will be most cost-effective and ecologically beneficial if clean-up efforts focus on the flux of microplastics from the coasts rather than in the center of the oceans where plastic accumulates in so called ‘garbage patches’. Scientists have suggested that source reduction can be achieved via many strategies, including improving waste management infrastructure and availability to stop large items of plastic waste from entering the oceans, preventing microfibers from clothing and small plastic fragments and beads from entering wastewater by putting filters on washing machines and removing plastic microbeads from personal care products. Ocean Conservancy (2015) estimates that focusing source reduction efforts in 5 countries, including China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, would reduce total global leakage by approximately 45% by 2025.

So, what can you do? Lauren Singer has been living a zero waste lifestyle for three years and has collected ‘every’ piece of plastic/trash over those years and stored it in a mason jar. She says that it is not an overnight process, it takes time, effort, and commitment.

 

You don’t have to be that extreme, but even taking your own reusable bags shopping and buying fruit and vegetable at the local markets will save the unnecessary packaging. It is achievable and every little action helps the environment and yourself.

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