Updated: Dec 24, 2019
A new study by the University of Newcastle analysed data from 52 other research studies to calculate a possible impact of plastic on human health. It suggests that an average person could be ingesting approximately 5 grams of plastic every week, depending on consumption habits. If easier to imagine, it equates to a credit card or a teaspoon worth of microplastics - plastic particles under 5mm in size. Plastic is so ever present that it was even found in the human poop.
The main channels for plastic contamination are air we breath, food we eat and beverages we drink on a daily basis. In comparison with food and beverages though, contamination from microplastics inhalation is negligible but may vary heavily depending on the environment and one’s lifestyle where generally an indoor air is considered to be more heavily plastic polluted than outdoors due to the fact that household dust and synthetic textiles belong to the most important sources of airborne microplastics. In case you thought that microplastics pollutants are present only at places with high air pollution rates, you are wrong: due to its light weight tiny plastic particles are travelling exceptionally well and end up even at such pristine and hard to reach environment as top of the Pyrénées mountains in the south of France or Arctic.
Apart from the airborne plastic pollution, you might wonder what things have plastic in them? In this blog post we’ve selected some surprising items that contain plastic - plastic-contaminated food, drinks and household items. Here at TOMBag, it’s our belief that from knowing comes caring and from caring comes change. We hope that this information will guide your consumer choices well.
Who would have thought that hidden plastics can be found in teabags? But yes, major tea bags brands are using plastic material to heat seal the bags. Recent research study showed that steeping a plastic teabag at brewing temperature of 95C releases around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage. Alarmingly, an initial acute invertebrate toxicity assessment indicated that exposure to the particles released from the teabags has a dose-dependent behavioural and developmental effects.
As investigated earlier this year by BBC UK oftentimes big brands make false claims regarding their teabags plastic content promising to knowledge-lacking consumers that their products contain no plastic. The truth is that these brands are simply switching to biodegradable plastic that might have same environmental and health implications, but cost you premium.
#2. Health and beauty products
Plastic microbeads are added to many health and beauty products. Everyday items that contain plastic include many toothpaste brands, face wash, scrubs and shower gels. Manufacturers are adding microbeads to their products intentionally since they have a specific function for scrubbing and exfoliating. What gives you glow though, has a devastating impact on our oceans and waterways. Due to their size (up to 5mm) microplastics are flowing straight from your bathroom drain into the sewer system and from there it easily leaks into the oceans since wastewater treatment plants are not able to filter the microbeads out. Same as larger plastic particles microplastics are not degradable and thus stay in the environment forever posing threat to the marine life and leaking toxic chemicals into the environment. To check whether your favorite beauty products contain plastic in it we encourage you to search it in the Beat the Microbead database run by Plastic Soup Foundation. If you find it on the list, you can help to end microbeads plastic pollution by switching to a "zero plastic inside" alternative.
Now, this might come as a shock to you, but nowadays even beer contains microplastics in it. According to WWF, an average person consume 10 plastic particles of a size 0-1mm per week from beer alone.
A new research study by Incheon National University in South Korea and Greenpeace East Asia have found microplastics in 90% of the tested table salt brands. Salt samples were sourced from 21 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia. The most contaminated salt were coming from Asia and from Indonesia in particular. As to the salt type, it turns out that the salt with the highest plastic contamination comes from the sea, followed by lake salt and then rock salt.
Many other researchers from around the globe came to the similar conclusions. For some more information you can click here.
#5. Drinking water
Research by WWF illustrates that drinking water (both tap and bottled) is among the biggest threat in terms of ingesting microplastics. An average person potentially consumes nearly 1800 plastic particles from water alone. The plastic particles leak into the drinking water from the polluted environment, and although wastewater treatment removes most of the tiny particles, millions of them are still making it through the filtration system into the water supply.
In 2019 WHO has published a report on the issue where although it assured that concentration of microplastics in the drinking water do not appear to pose a health risk at current levels, it also added that much more research is needed to confirm this statement.
#6. Chewing gum
Is chewing gum also made of plastic? The answer is a definite “yes” (there are some exceptions though!). Plastic is hiding behind the ingredient called the “gum base” which is a mix of plastic and different chemicals. It typically makes up to 25-30% of the gum. One of the most popular plastic components used in a gum base is Polyethylene which is also used for plastic bags production. Shocking? Yes. Disgusting? Yes again.
As a result of irresponsible human activity many marine species are now ingesting microplastics which directly affects human food chain. It has been reported that microplastics is present in both finfish and shellfish consumed by humans. So far its effects on human health are unknown since very limited number of studies are looking into leaking of plastic chemicals from marine species’ guts into their other tissues that are edible by humans.
So that wraps up our list of plastics hidden in the items of everyday use. There is not enough scientific evidence yet on how ingested plastic can impact human health. What we do know though is that it contains toxic elements including some carcinogens. And with plastic particles now having more means than ever to enter human bodies, it seems we are playing with fire.