Plastic is all around us, and now evidence is growing that tiny particles called microplastics are also inside us. Should you be concerned? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t crystal clear.
The scientific community has raised red flags about the harmful effects of microplastics on marine and freshwater organisms. Microplastics have also been found to pollute the distant Arctic ice floes. But researchers are now working to understand how these tiny plastics impact humans.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are defined as plastic pieces between 1 micrometer and 5 millimeters in size; which is approximately the size of a dust particle and the width of a pencil eraser.
Common Sources of Microplastics in Food:
- Bottled water/plastic bottles
- Tinned foods
- Tea bags
What We Know About Microplastics
A study that measured how many microplastics are going into humans looked at what comes out of us. Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna followed study participants who tracked their diets. The researchers found 20 microplastic particles in every 10 grams (2 teaspoons) of human stool.
Nine different plastic types were identified and sizes ranged between 50 and 500 micrometers.1 For reference, 50 micrometers is about the diameter of a human hair.
Exact Risks are Still Unknown
The exact danger to humans is unknown. According to the World Health Organization, the risk as low, but they urged further study of microplastics in drinking water. Also, they suggested a reduction of plastic pollution to lessen human exposure.2
However, there are still questions surrounding the different toxic and carcinogenic chemicals used to make plastics and if they're dangerous on a microplastic level.
What The Research Says
Startling results from individual studies continue to make headlines. For example, Canadian researchers found that one plastic tea bag can release billions of microplastic and nanoplastic particles into your cup. 3
Yoga pants and sweat-wicking shirts were called out after a study found that one laundry load of synthetic clothing might shed 91,000 to 138,000 microfibers into the waste stream.4
Another study found that 50% of the particles gathered from samples of stormwater spillover were black rubbery pieces from tires, according to the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Aquatic Science Center.5
To Reduce Your Microplastics Try To:
- Give up single-use plastic bottles
- Choose paper bags over plastic
- Wear non-synthetic clothing
- Be a packaging-conscious consumer
- Filter your tap water
- Air dry your clothes
- Limiting meat and fish in your diet