Plastics are one of the most prevalent materials used today. They have become an extremely convenient source of material that the majority of us use in our everyday life. It’s cheap, readily available, and has a convenient supply of abundance and variety. Most of us have been exposed to plastics since infancy when our bottles were served to us in a plastic or a bottle bag. Many of us also wore disposable baby diapers (which are plastic-based). Studies now show that babies are being exposed to plastics while they're still in their mother’s wound. The latest research reveals that humans have traces of microplastics found in their blood.
This recent discovery of finding traces of plastics in human blood for the first time ever has raised concern about what impacts this exposure is doing not only to our environment but also our health. Nearly 80% of all blood samples tested in the study showed positive for microplastics.
What are microplastics?
Plastic is a material that never actually breaks down. It simply breaks apart into smaller and smaller fragments, making itself small enough to eventually be consumed by extremely small organisms that eventually make their way up the food chain.
How are microplastics getting into our bodies?
The fish that we eat for example could be filled with microplastics because the diet the fish consumed consisted of prey that also ingested microplastics. Now, most of the food we eat and the water we drink likely contain microplastics that enter our body and make their way to reside in certain organs. Researchers believe most microplastics are either ingested or inhaled before making their way into the bloodstream. Another recent study discovered the presence of microplastics in human lungs which is something that has never been seen until now. This suggests that our lifestyle has recently exposed us to inhalable microplastics. Could disposable plastic masks be the culprit?
What are the implications on our health?
Even though microplastics have contaminated the planet for decades, it's not until now that studies reveal microplastics in the human bloodstream and lungs. It is not certain what the long-term health effects are but the mere presence of microplastic in the blood is very concerning. Researchers are concerned about how microplastics cause damage to human cells, cell death, and allergic responses. More research is needed as this is a new discovery that we do not yet know the full implications or how long microplastics remain in the body until excreted. We do know that plastics contain chemical additives, many of which have been associated with serious health problems. These include:
Hormone disruption (endocrine disruption)
Cancer (especially hormone-related cancers)
Neurodevelopmental disorder ex: ADHD and autism
Organ development issues
Hidden Plastic Everywhere
Once plastic is in the environment, we can’t really get it out. But, what we can do is learn to identify some of the most highly contaminated plastic items in order to avoid/lessen our exposure to microplastics and the potentially harmful impacts on us and our environment:
Juice boxes – the interior lining is plastic
Aluminum cans – most cans are lined with an interior plastic resin to preserve the can
Hot beverage paper cups – most are lined in a plastic coating unless specified otherwise
Teabags – many tea bags are sealed with a plastic seal
Clothing – polyester is a common clothing material that it is made from plastic
Disposable wet wipes – they are plastic-based
Chewing gum – most gum bases are made from plastic unless specified otherwise
Glitter – made from sheets of plastic
Menstrual products – most pads are plastics based unless they are 100% cotton
Cigarette butts – these little guys the most littered item in the world
What about BPA-free?
The outcry around BPA created enough consumer pressure that by 2008, many manufacturers started to remove it from their products. But, when they removed BPA, they simply replaced it with another chemical with similar structural makeup and toxicity levels. We are starting to learn that the BPA replacements are just as bad as the original BPA plastic itself.
What do we do about it?
Industries are always adapting to their consumers' demands. This means that if we as consumers no longer support (purchase) plastic-containing items, manufacturers will be forced to either adapt or go out of business. We have a lot more power and say in the direction of our planet than we realize. The simple action of choosing to purchase a non-plastic item over its plastic counterpart can go a long way. Supporting industries and brands that are eco-friendly can eventually pivot an entire industry in order for them to sustain their business.
How can we detox from plastic?
It is estimated that the average person consumes up to a credit card worth of plastic every week through food and water. Here are some ways we can reduce exposure:
Avoid heating up food in plastic containers. Microwave in glass only.
Buy and store food in glass and silicone.
Avoid processing food wrapped in plastic
Vacuum often – many dust particles contain microplastics that we inhale
Work with your community – get involved in garbage cleanups, recycling groups and voice your thoughts at city legislation
Avoid plastic purchases - consumer pressure can truly make a difference
The main take-away
By simply reducing our plastic consumption, consumers as a result put pressure on manufacturers and industries to change and adapt to the demand. In doing so, we help protect our environment, our health and the future wellbeing of our planet.