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Microplastics are all around us. But you probably don’t even realize just how prevalent they are. Here are 10 facts you need to know about these fossil fuel-based tiny particles.
In his just-published book, A Poison Like No Other, Wired journalist Matt Simon shares some frankly horrifying facts about the overwhelming amount of microplastics present in our lives. Plastic has become ubiquitous in our lives. In a given day, we use a plastic toothbrush when we wake up and toothpaste that comes out of a plastic tube. You dress with clothes that likely contain plastic microfibers. You grab a cup of coffee lined with plastic or sip a plastic cup iced tea. You get a takeaway sandwich or salad at lunch wrapped in plastic. You buy groceries for dinner, all of which are packaged in plastic. You get the picture, plastic is all around us. But what about microplastics? These tiny plastic particles (which then further break down into nanoplastics) are in our air, our water and our food. Below we highlight some frightening microplastic facts.
1) Home is where the microplastic heart is
You may be inhaling up to 7,000 microplastics a day…IN YOUR HOME. That’s right, your home is where you are ingesting the bulk of these tiny particles that are now being linked to various health issues and diseases. Plastic is in pretty much everything all around you: from carpets to curtains, packaging to clothing, couches and beds to food. Even your car tires shed 3 billion pounds of microplastics into the environment, EVERY YEAR. In Simon’s book, he details how this shedding caused fish to die in droves in Washington state.
2) You are drinking thousands of microplastics in your daily takeaway coffee
Simon also shares that takeaway coffee cups release tens of thousands of microplastics and millions of nanoplastics into hot water AKA YOUR BEVERAGE in just 15 minutes. And you are drinking all those particles when you sip your coffee/tea/hot chocolate.
3) Microplastics and nanoplastics are in our organs and can enter our cells
Nanoplastics (the term for when microplastics break down even further into even tinier particles) can move through our organs, including our brain, and can enter our cells. According to the latest studies, microplastics have been found in placentas, breast milk, human blood and animal blood (specifically the pigs and cows we eat).
4) There’s a potential link between microplastic exposure and brain illnesses like dementia
Microplastics may been linked to the skyrocketing rise in degenerative brain diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Scientists believe the brain is one of the most sensitive organs in the human body when it comes to environmental toxins like microplastics.
5) Bottle-fed babies could be ingesting billions of microplastics every year
Bottle-bed babies and infants are likely ingesting millions of microplastics and nanoplastics per day (and billions per year), according to research done across 48 regions in the world. Over 83% of baby bottles are made from polypropylene plastic, and when these bottles are heated up to high temperatures to warm up the formula, unknown amounts of tiny plastic particles are released into the liquid.
6) 97% of kids have microplastic debris in their bodies
In Germany, researchers uncovered that a whopping 97% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 year-olds have plastic and microplastic debris in their bodies. The children are likely being exposed in their homes, via their clothing, through food and in their surrounding environment.
7) We’re all singing and dancing in plastic rain
A group of scientists that were doing research on nitrogen pollution accidentally discovered that raindrops contain plastic waste. More data has since been gathered, and it confirmed the findings, microplastic rain is all around us. Given that rain hydrates our crops and wildlife and ends up in our rivers, oceans and drinking water reservoirs, this has wide-ranging ramifications for human and planetary health.
8) Microplastics are officially everywhere on the planet
Even in the most remote locations of the planet, places where humans don’t inhabit or travel to, there are microplastics to be found, from snow in the Antarctic to the deepest depths of the ocean where they interfere with deepsea food webs.
9) Microplastics carry deadly diseases across the planet
Scientists have confirmed that microplastics move germs around. The long and short here is that new research shows that microplastics can transport pathogens, and those pathogens can then end up in our bodies, causing health issues like gastrointestinal upset. In small children, the effects are even worse.
10) Every time we do laundry, we unleash over 9 million microfibers into our waterways
Most of us don’t realize that the vast majority of the clothing we wear is actually made from plastic, over 60% of all fashion textiles in fact. In the world of home furnishings, it’s over 70%. Beyond the fossil fuel-related environmental costs of making these clothes, there is also a large microplastic toll. Plastic textiles shed millions of microfibers, the textile version of microplastics,
The bottom line is that if we want to decrease our exposure to microplastics, we have to reduce the amount of plastic we use. It’s not easy and not always convenient but the evidence against plastics and the health consequences of our overexposure to plastics is mounting. Adopting a low-plastic lifestyle is key for mitigating the effects of this public health crisis. Our guide to zero-waste living is an ideal place to start.
Lead image courtesy of Canva.