What is microplastic?
Microplastics can be as small as 5mm in size, which is roughly the same size as a sesame seeds. Most microplastics are smaller than 1 micrometer (0.001mm), and can be found on the nanoscale. A single sheet of paper has a thickness of 0.05mm.
How is microplastic made?
Microplastics are generally made from smaller plastic items found in the environment, such as household rubbish, industrial discharge or litter that has been thrown into rivers. Microplastics are formed from larger plastic items by heat, oxidation and light, as well as microorganisms. The environmental factors that influence the rate and extent plastic degradation will affect the speed at which it occurs. Also, microplastics can be found in smaller forms called microbeads. These are used in cosmetic products such as toothpastes and facial washes.
You can find microplastics in your food
Microplastic contamination in seafood is increasing, especially in shellfish, due to the fact microplastics are more prevalent in seawater than in littering and industrial waste. Oysters and mussels are more at risk. Because of the high concentration of plastic near the shore, where most oysters are found, this is why they are at a higher risk.
Microplastics can also be found in food and beverages such as beer, honey, and sea salt. Recent tests on 15 sea salt brands revealed 600 microplastic particles per kilogram. Other studies have found 660 microplastic fibres in honey, and 109 microplastic fragments per litre. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna found microplastics in stool samples of all the participants. Although it was only 8 people, the results show the extent of the problem’s global reach. The volunteers ate liquids made from plastic bottles and seafood.
Microplastics are found in everyday plastic products all over the globe, so it can be difficult to identify the source of microplastic particles found within these foods.
Are you worried?
Microplastics can absorb and release many types of chemical compounds. This should concern us. There have not been any studies on humans that examine the effects of microplastics on human health. The amount of microplastics in your body is small, and they will pass through your stomach. It is not yet clear how many plastics we ingest are large enough to cause us harm.
What you can do to avoid microplastic-contaminated food
Although microplastics have not been shown to cause any adverse effects on human health, it is a good idea to avoid foods and drinks containing microplastics. Do what you can control. Limit the use of plastic utensils, and food packaging. Wherever possible, opt for glass bottles, metal or wooden utensils, and paper-wrapped food instead of plastic wrap.
Another way to contribute is to reduce plastic in the food chain. Make sure you shop only for plastic-free packaging.
What happens if a piece of plastic is accidentally swallowed?
In case you have accidentally swallowed a piece or more of plastic, don’t try to inflict vomiting. It can cause severe choking and discomfort. You will likely go to the bathroom regardless of how large the piece of plastic was. If the plastic piece is sharp it can cause damage to your gut lining or internal bleeding. You should seek medical advice if you experience any discomfort or concern after swallowing a piece of plastic.