Microplastics are everywhere. In fact, new research suggests they can be found virtually everywhere on Earth… even hundreds of miles away from human habitation. And it’s impacting more than just the environment, it’s also affecting human health. Here are a few ways you can reduce your exposure to microplastics.
Busy? Try the speed read.
The scoop: Microplastics can be found in every crevice of the Earth. As they become more prevalent, they are more likely to impact human health.
Top ways to avoid microplastics:
- Filtered tap water > bottled water.
- Shellfish = microplastic.
- Eat more fresh food, less takeout.
Zoom out: As the global production of plastic goes up, there will be more plastic to deal with. Research on the impact of microplastics on human health is still developing. Better to be safe than sorry.
Dig deeper → 4 min
Why do microplastics exist?
Some plastic is manufactured in larger sizes (like for a car), some plastic is made intentionally small (like beads on facial scrubs), but all plastic breaks down over time. Through sunlight exposure and other natural processes, all plastic eventually breaks down into nano-particles smaller than 5 mm.
These little dust-like particles sprinkle into everyday items like food, water, and clothing. They are even said to be found in pristine areas like Antarctica. The more plastic we produce, the more microplastic will become a problem.
Virtually every piece of plastic created since the 19th century still exists somewhere on Earth today. Plastic exists for at least 500 years before it is decomposed.
Why are microplastics dangerous?
The world keeps producing more plastic. With the pandemic, single-use plastic production is increasing even faster. As more plastic gets dumped into the environment, it will become harder to ignore the effects.
For context, one study found microplastics in the placentas of unborn babies.
Scientists are still trying to figure out the health effects of microplastics. But we know plastics with certain chemicals are highly toxic.
So yes, there are many uncertainties and variables as the research is still young. But evidence suggests how overexposure to microplastics can have serious health consequences.
9 ways to reduce your exposure to microplastics
Filter your tap, don’t use bottled water.
In a 2017 study conducted by the State University of New York at Fredonia, 93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination. The data points to the packaging and bottling process itself as a partial culprit. Meaning, it doesn’t matter much if you keep your Poland Spring out of the sunlight or freezing temperatures. The microplastics are there before you buy it.
Avoid plastic #3, #6 and #7. Go BPA-free.
If you’re on Sustainable Review, you probably know about that triangle symbol on the bottom of your take-out. For recycling purposes, we categorize plastic from 1-7. Plastic 3, 6, and 7 are known to contain phthalates, bisphenols (BPA), and styrene. These chemicals are harmful to human health.
Where to look and some tips? If you use a plastic spaghetti strainer or kitchen utensil, check if it’s BPA-free. Otherwise, that boiling water may be doing more than just burning the tip of your finger. Check aluminum cans, bottles, tea bags, food storage, clothing, glitter, styrofoam, wet wipes, balloons, etc. Your welcome.
Here are some BPA-free alternatives:
Avoid hot takeout in plastic.
If you order takeout with a piping hot soup and it shows up in a plastic container, some of that plastic is going to seep into your food. If the chef takes a meal off the stove and throws it directly into a plastic container, the same rule applies.
Reduce your intake of hot food takeout from restaurants that still use traditional plastic.
Avoid reheating food or drink in plastic.
Similar to takeout, avoid reheating homemade meals in plastic. The same goes for your coffee at Starbucks, or anything else involving abrupt temperature changes and plastic.
Vacuum your house.
Microplastics build up in dust around your house. If you don’t vacuum regularly, you may inhale microplastics over time.
Eat less seafood.
We’re all familiar with the ocean plastic crisis.
Well, as it turns out, small fish consume microplastic more easily. Then, big fish eat the small fish. And most fish end up with microplastics in their system. Shellfish commonly contain microplastics.
Odds are if you eat seafood, you are probably consuming some plastics along with your rice and potatoes.
If you’re looking for more information about seafood and plastics, check out this report from Healthline.
Eat more fresh food.
This recommendation is more instinctive than it is supported by scientific evidence. But if you eat more fresh food and less canned food lined in plastic or food stored in plastic containers, you are less likely to become exposed to microplastics. Fresh food is also just healthier in general, so. Not judging you or anything.
Look for non-synthetic material in clothing.
Nylon, spandex, and polyester are common synthetic materials for clothing. They shed microfibres when they rub against rough surfaces. Look for plant-derived, organic materials on your clothing labels.
Air-dry your clothes.
If you already have synthetic materials lying around your closet. Try not to machine wash them. When synthetic materials are machine-washed, they shed microfibers.