Whatcha Got In Your Sushi?
Not that you needed more reasons to refuse the single use plastic water bottle, maybe knowing that there is on average 241 microplastics per liter could change the habit.
Yes, plastic is polluting our environment. Let’s turn our attention to microplastics – tiny pieces ranging from 5 millimetres down to 100 nanometres in diameter. These ocean microplastics are entering the food chain and, ultimately, our bodies.
But fish and shellfish aren’t our only food sources that can contain microplastics. Don’t even think mentally eliminating seafood from your diet. Other sources that don’t come from the sea might be of much more concern.
Not only that – the microplastic doesn’t innocently enter the digestive system and – well, get eliminated. Research has found microplastics in other body parts, like the liver.
Another marine food source of microplastics is sea salt. One kilogram can contain over 600 microplastics. If you eat the maximum daily intake of 5 grams of salt, this would mean you would typically consume three microplastics a day. Land animals also eat microplastics . Scientist have also found microplastics in honey and beer. We might be swallowing tens of microplastics with each bottle of beer.
Okay, back to the microplastics that we consume in bottled water. When researchers examined a variety of types of glass and plastic water bottles, they found microplastics in most of them. Single-use water bottles contained between two and 44 microplastics per litre, while returnable bottles contained between 28 and 241 microplastics per litre. The microplastics came from the packaging, which means we could be exposing ourselves to more of them every time we fill up a plastic bottle in order to reduce waste.
There is also evidence that microplastics in food come from indoor dust. A recent study estimated that we could get an annual dose of almost 70,000 microplastics from the dust that settles on to our dinner – and that is only one of our daily meals.
Sound the Alarm? Maybe Not
There are microplastics in the human food chain. Scientists were intrigued by this possibility and conducted an experiment to check. While they cooked in their kitchens, they left open petri dishes with sticky tape to collect dust fallout in the surrounding air.
They compared the amounts of plastic fibers in this dust with the quantities they found in mussels collected around the Scottish coast. The results suggest that while a regular UK consumer might ingest 100 plastic particles a year from eating mussels, their average exposure to plastic particles during meals from household dust is well over 10,000 per year.
In sum, the evidence about the dangers of plastics and microplastics in the marine environment is far from conclusive. There are important gaps in scientists’ knowledge that need filled, particularly where plastic particles are likely to accumulate in large amounts over long periods and how this potentially affects ecosystems. Or are they readily eliminated and pose little threat to humans. The jury is still out.
But it is important not to speculate while overstating risks, and instead engage with the actual evidence. Otherwise it will detract from our ability to manage plastic pollution in the most effective way and have a clear sense of the right priorities. Stay informed, question alarming statements and for all the other MANY important reasons continue to SAY NO TO SINGLE USE PLASTIC – Recycle is not enough – refuse, reuse.