We live in a world full of plastic. From tiny stickers on fruits and vegetables to grocery bags, candy wrappers, water bottles, carpeting, synthetic clothing fibers and tire dust — plastic is virtually impossible to avoid.
While there’s a growing movement to eliminate single-use plastic items such as plastic cutlery and coffee cups, plastics also exist beyond what the eye can see. Most of the plastic in the ocean is not in the form of whole products like cups or straws — although there’s plenty of that, too — but microscopic plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters in length called microplastics. These invisible pieces of plastic hide in everyday household dust, shampoo, toys, soup can linings, electronics, cosmetics and numerous other products, according to a Washington Post report.
One study found plastic fibers in 87% of 114 human lung specimens examined, which may be due to the presence of microplastics in the air.
In a 2017 study, microplastic particles were found to accumulate in the liver, kidneys and intestines of mice alongside an increase in biomarkers (biological indicators) for potential toxicity from microplastic exposure in the brain and elsewhere.
While more research is needed to understand how microplastics may impact human health, it may be advisable to consider reducing exposure.
Simple Ways to Reduce Microplastic Exposure
Don’t Heat Plastic Food and Beverage Containers
Chemicals are known to leach into food or beverages when plastic is heated. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends not putting plastic into the dishwasher.
Avoid #3, 6 and 7 Plastic Food Containers
The familiar triangular recycling symbols on the bottom of plastic containers contain a number from 1–7. Numbers 3, 6 and 7 indicate the presence of phthalates, bisphenols, and styrene, all known to be harmful to human health.
Eat More Fresh Foods
While levels of microplastics in fresh foods are largely untested, according to the Washington Post, there’s reason to believe that fresh foods may be safer than canned goods, which have plastic linings, and foods wrapped in plastic.
Drink Water From the Tap
In a 2017 study from the State University of New York in Fredonia, analyses of 259 water bottles from 11 brands across 9 countries found that more than 90% contained microplastics.
Reduce Seafood Consumption
Microplastics are found everywhere in the ocean and marine life cannot help but readily ingest them, according to a Forbes magazine report. According to Healthline, seafood is the most common food source of microplastics, with mussels and oysters presenting some of the highest risk.
Regular vacuuming can help reduce the buildup of microplastic-containing dust in interior spaces.
By Tess Francke
Tess Francke is a freelance journalist and marketing specialist who has spent her career at the intersection of media, writing, design and health research. You will find her other byline in the National Foundation for Cancer Research blog and Research to Remission quarterly oncology magazine. She is a proud Detroit native with the mission is to facilitate the vital connection between populations and health information. She loves teaching fitness classes and her daily yoga practice.