Microplastics: Human Health - Ophelia Bentley

Most people know that plastic is creating a massive problem for our environment and is wreaking havoc on oceans and wildlife. It is estimated that on average the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans every minute. Statistics like these have sparked a global movement to save our seas and reduce plastic. We have been told to ditch the plastic straw, use reusable bags, and stop drinking bottled water, however, plastic is woven into our lives on a much more micro level than any of us realized.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than five mm in width. Since plastic has been under so much scrutiny, scientists have found that microplastics are practically everywhere, in our soil, water, even the air! In a recent study that made international headlines, it was found that they are even in tea. Plastic tea bags leach tiny microplastics into the water. In a single cup of tea, 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano plastics can be released.

 Microplastics are not only found in tea but also in 93% of the water in plastic bottles. Microplastics are also released when polyester fabrics are washed in a washing machine, the plastic draining through the machine and into our oceans. They can also be found in cosmetic products and as a result of larger pieces of plastic breaking down. There are also many undergoing studies about the possibility of plastic in drinking water. It is estimated that humans eat a credit card’s worth of plastic every single day.

 Plastic is not always directly consumed by humans. Often times fish eat these microplastics or plastic of any size. These are the same fish that people are eating as well. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are said to have ingested plastic. Even though we are not eating the plastic directly, it is still an issue due to biomagnification, meaning the fact that we eat lots of fish/seafood, toxins levels rise as each of those fish may have eaten plastic.

 While scientists have yet to discover the implications of consuming so much plastic, it does not look hopeful. Plastic is like a toxin sponge. A singular piece of plastic can be one million times more toxic than the water around it. The toxins in plastic are the same ones that have been known to cause cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruptors, and other diseases.

 Though they are small, microplastics are causing a huge problem.