If the saying “you are what you eat” is true, then we’re all slowly becoming giant earth-killers. The plastics that are polluting our oceans are invading our homes and bodies too. According to a new study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), we could be eating an average of five grams of plastic every. single. week.
What does five grams look like? Well, this:
Yes, you and I could be consuming a credit card’s worth of microplastics each week. (In fact, you can find out how much plastic you could be ingesting by visiting this website set up by the WWF.)
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny plastic fragments less than five mm in size. This means they range from the visible to practically invisible. They come from larger plastic pieces that have slowly disintegrated and been released into the environment. As you know, plastic takes around hundreds to a thousand years to break down, which makes them virtually un-biodegradable. Boo.
Where are microplastics found?
According to the study, microplastics are found in the air we breathe, food we eat and water we drink – basically, everywhere. We can assume that microplastics can be found in microbeads in cosmetic products, car tyres, synthetic fibres of clothes that come off during a machine wash, the list is endless.
However, the biggest culprit of plastic ingestion in the world is in our water, both bottled and tap. An investigative study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 93 per cent of bottled water contain microplastics (from a sample size of 259 bottles).
Food-wise, shellfish, beer and salt have the highest recorded levels of plastic. But this may not be 100 per cent accurate as there are other staples like rice, bread, pasta and milk that have yet to be researched on.
What are the effects of microplastics on humans?
This is where it gets tricky. The full impacts of consuming microplastics on human health aren’t fully understood yet, as there hasn’t been enough research done on the subject.
Larger pieces of microplastic most likely pass through our bodies and end up in the toilet. However, smaller particles may have more insidious effects and many studies have already shown how harmful plastics are to animals, especially marine life. A study on fish found that nanoplastic penetrated their brains and affected their behaviour, causing them to eat slower. Another study on oysters found that exposure to polystyrene microplastics (that make up styrofoam containers) affected their reproductive systems.
Better to be safe than sorry, though.
So what can we do?
To protect our bodies from the potentially harmful effects of microplastics and help make our planet habitable for future generations, we can choose to be live a more eco-mindful life.
Sure, making a commitment to living a conscious, sustainable life isn’t always going to be easy, but easy is what has gotten us into this mess. All clichés aside, it’s important to remember that every little bit does help.
Here are 12 small things you can do to potentially reduce your microplastic intake and save the earth at the same time:
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Text: Elizabeth Liew & Cheryl Lim