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How To Reduce Your Exposure To Microplastics

environmental issues

And help save ourselves and the planet.

A few years ago, I had never heard of microplastics. While I recycled and composted, I was ignorant of the huge negative impact plastic was having on our health and the planet.

I was putting my son’s lunch in BPA-free plastic containers and did not think twice about buying plastic party favors and bags of balloons. I stored food in plastic, used plastic wrap and supported disposable cutlery, plates, cups and straws when it was convenient for me.

Then I started reading and learning. I started reading more about single-use plastics, microplastics and nanoplastics. And I started learning about their negative impact on humans, animals and our planet.

That began a shift, in how I act and live.

My intention with this article is to provide some practical suggestions on how we all can help create a healthy and sustainable future.

Microplastics

Plastic is almost impossible to avoid. It’s in thousands of single-use items like cups, bags, cutlery and straws. It’s in toys, personal care products, electronics and containers. It lines cans, seeps out of storage containers and hides in dust.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are less than millimeters in length. For reference, this is about the size of a sesame seed. These small particles often start as larger pieces of plastic and are the most common form of plastic found in our waters.

There are some plastics that are designed to be small. These plastics are called microbeads and are often used in health and beauty products as exfoliants. Birds and aquatic life often mistake microbeads and microplastic for food.

How Much Microplastic Do People Ingest?

What I never realized was that I was not just using plastic, but also ingesting it.

Research published in 2019 estimates the average American ingests 74,000 microplastic particles a year.

However, the study only reviewed about fifteen percent of foods in an average diet so the actual amount of plastic ingested could be much higher.

Another study commissioned by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimated that the average person consumes about 5 grams of plastic a week . This is roughly the equivalent of a credit card.

How Does Plastic Affect Your Health?

The research into microplastics is still so new so there is a lot we don’t know. There’s not enough data to say exactly how they are affecting human health.

Many scientists believe that ingesting microplastics exposes us to harmful chemicals found in some plastics. The microplastics can leach BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates into our bodies which have been linked to serious health complications including hormone issues and reproductive problems.

Microplastics can also accumulate PCBs which are considered probable carcinogens. Once these chemicals are inside of us, even small amounts can result in a negative effect.

There is even evidence in animals that microplastics cross the membrane that protects the brain from foreign bodies in the bloodstream. Mothers may also be able to pass microplastics through the placenta to a developing fetus.

A 2015 study estimated that globally about eight million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Scientists continue to study the potential health risks of microplastics to humans and marine life but they are only beginning to understand the impact on marine life, ecosystems, and human health.

What Are Nanoplastics? There is officially no lower limit to the size of microplastic. But in more recent years, scientists have begun to use the term nanoplastic for particles smaller than a few micrometers. The risk of nanoplastics is that given their size, they may be able to penetrate tissues and organs more easily. Little research to date has been done around Nanoplastics.

12 Things You Can Do Today To Reduce Exposure To Microplastics

1. WATER Stop buying bottled water. Bottled water has been shown to have high levels of microplastics and PFAS chemicals and they are just bad for the environment. Plastic water bottles are rarely necessary and recycled.

2. DISPOSABLE CUPS

Invest in a reusable coffee mug. Takeaway cups are lined with a layer of popular plastic called, polyethylene. The paper element will break down but the plastic breaks up into tiny pieces. They are not easily recycled and these mixed materials need to be handled by a specialist recycling facility.

3. STORAGE

Food or beverages stored in plastic containers will likely leak plastic into your food. Glass or metal containers are always better than plastic ones. Also, plastics take a long time to break down and contribute to plastic pollution.

If you still decide to use plastic containers never heat food in plastic. Heated plastics have been known to leak chemicals into food. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends not to put plastic in the dishwasher.

4. FOOD

The best thing to do is to eat more fresh food and buy produce that is not wrapped in plastic. Reducing meat and fish consumption may also limit microplastic exposure. Research has shown that microplastics are eaten by marine life and even land animals like chicken. We also know that shellfish and filter-feeding animals like oysters and scallops contain lots of microplastics.

Watch your teabag. I recently learned the nylon, pyramid-shaped teabags I’d come to love, were also leaving me with a cup full o’ plastic. Nylon tea bags often contain polypropylene, which breaks down into tiny plastic pieces. The best thing to do is switch to loose-leaf tea.

4. CLOTHING

Synthetic clothing fibers may significantly contribute to microplastic pollution.

Outdoor gear including fleece made from acrylic, polyester, polyamide, spandex and nylon shed up to 700,000 microfibers with each wash.

Once microfibers are in the water, they are very hard to filter out. Recent studies confirm fibres in tap water around the world, including in the U.S. where 94% of samples contained fibers.

Buy non-synthetic, eco-friendly clothing that are made of natural fibers, like cotton. Consider investing in a filter for your washing machine and get a laundry ball like Cora Ball. Air drying clothes also helps reduce microplastics.

5. MICROBEADS

Avoid products with microbeads. They are used in some body washes, toothpaste, facial cleansers and other products to give them some extra scrubbing power. In 2015, the U.S. banned the use of microbeads but they still pop up in products in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.

6. DUST

The dust in homes contains microplastics. One study estimated that food picks up most microplastics from the air and dust in our homes. To minimize household dust, invest in a good vacuum and vacuum regularly.

7. SINGLE USE PLASTIC

Plastic Bags: Invest in reusable bags. As many as 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year, and only around 5% ever get recycled. The majority end up in landfills, oceans, and the environment.

Straws: Although they seem harmless, plastic straws are putting a huge strain on the environment and harming many animals and creatures in the process. Use reusable straws.

Plastic Wrap: Plastic wrap is very difficult to recycle and usually ends up in landfills. As an alternative use beeswax wrap or silicone covers for your items.

8. GLITTER

Most glitter is made from plastics, PET or PVC. It’s not only very hard to dispose of but it can also be very harmful to creatures. It’s best to avoid it, but if you really need it, look for biodegradable cellulose film glitter.

9. STYROFOAM

Styrofoam can not be recycled and it takes a ridiculously long time to decompose in the environment. It contains the chemical, styrene, which has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration and the list goes on. Step away from the styrofoam.

10. WET WIPES

Baby wipes, hand wipes and make-up remover wipes are often made from a mixture of plastics: polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene. If people were aware of what they are made of, they may not even use them. But because they are so prevalent in society and people don’t aren’t aware that they can’t be flushed, wipes often end up blocking sewers and creating fatbergs.

11. BALLOONS

Balloons can be a big problem when they are released in the environment. They are usually made of latex, which is considered biodegradable, however it can take years for the rubber to break down. In the meantime, it can wreak havoc on our environment, be ingested by animals and choke or kill creatures. Balloons made of Mylar can last even longer in the environment because they are made of plastic, which never fully degrades.

12. LAST BUT NOT LEAST!

Most importantly, stop buying from companies that overuse plastic. Vote with your wallet and speak up. As consumers we must demand healthier and more sustainable behaviors and products from companies we purchase from.

The issue of microplastics pollution can feel overwhelming but every small change to help lessen plastic consumption can make a big difference.

 

This article was originally published by Shelley Moore, Medium.com

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