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What did you have for lunch today? A whole bunch of plastic

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Posted October 24, 2018

We polluted our world with plastic and it isn‘t great. Plastic waste has a lot of negative environmental and health effects, but people usually think they are avoiding them. However, now scientists from the University of York found microplastics from up to nine different plastic types in human stools across the globe.

Putting water in plastic bottles may not be the greatest idea we had. Image credit: Brett Weinstein via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Microplastics are exactly what they sound to be – tiny little pieces of plastic. Generally speaking, they come from bigger pieces – plastic bags, old packaging, plastic bodies of various devices. When they start breaking down, microscopic pieces of plastic are released in the environment. This causes a whole bunch of problems. Cleaning up big waste from the ocean is already a huge challenge, but microplastics are especially difficult to pick up and clean. They are damaging the marine life, affecting climate and soil-based organisms. Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, fish and mussel tissue and even in beer, which is why scientists are not surprised that microplastics can be found in human faeces as well.

People think they can avoid plastic uptake by simply removing packaging and generally not eating plastic. However, we have so much plastic in our houses that its particles are bound to appear in dust, water, plants and food. It is pretty much unavoidable reality – plastic will appear in your lungs and digestive system. Furthermore, there is a problem of health effects – they are mostly unknown. Some laboratory studies were done with animal models, but in order to achieve quicker results they used higher concentrations of microplastics. In other words, we don’t really know what microplastics do to our own bodies.

That is the most important message – we have to know more about where these microplastics are coming from and what they can do to our health. More research needs to be done. Professor Alistair Boxall commented on the study: “To truly understand the sources of exposure we need much more thorough studies where we monitor closely people’s day-to-day activities and the media they are exposed to (food, water, air). Only then will we be able to be confident on where these materials originate and, if they are found to be of concern to health, where to focus interventions”.

Situation is likely to continue getting worse. We have to find ways to replace plastic, to get rid of it from our organisms and Earth’s oceans. Identifying a problem is a first step, but it is already a time for the second step, which is action.

 

Source: University of York

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