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Yikes, This Is How Many Microplastics We Eat A Year + 3 Ways To Stop It

Caroline Muggia
June 6, 2019
Caroline Muggia
By Caroline Muggia
mbg Contributor
Caroline Muggia is a writer, environmental advocate, and registered yoga teacher (E-RYT) with a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College.
Image by Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy
June 6, 2019

Think about the number of times throughout the day you see others using single-use plastic (bottles, lids, straws, bags) or use it yourself—take-out containers, shipping material, and packaged foods.

I don't know about you, but all I'm seeing is plastic, which makes sense as a study published in Science Advances found that since large-scale production of plastic began 60 years ago, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced.

The same study found that 6.3 billion metric tons became plastic waste, and only 9% had been recycled. This means 79% was left to decompose in landfills or ended up as litter in the environment. So what does this mean for us and this planet?

Once plastic begins to break down (which can take more than 400 years), it turns into microfibers (made of plastic and chemical-covered non-plastics) that are so small we can't see them. Due to their size, it's easy for animals to ingest these microplastics and, according to a new study, humans too.

This new study1 published by the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology wanted to figure out how many microplastics humans may be consuming. They compared the number of microplastics found in things like fish, shellfish, alcohol, tap and bottled water, and air to the recommended daily intakes for the American diet. They estimated that the average person in the U.S. is consuming more than 70,000 microplastic particles per year and even more for those who drink only bottled water instead of tap. 

There are many ways microplastics can get into our bodies. If we're eating seafood, there's a chance the marine animal has ingested microplastics2, and those particles may get into our system. Plastic particles can also rub off of packaging when we are eating food out of plastic or drinking out of a plastic water bottle. In terms of the air? The verdict is still out on how many particles may be floating around, but a recent study found microplastics3 to be present on a remote mountaintop in France if that's any indication.

It's still uncertain how long-term exposure to microplastic may affect human health, but some research suggests that the chemicals found in plastic such as bisphenols and phthalates may be detrimental to our hormones. This link between microplastics and our health can be scary to think about, so we're all for finding ways to limit our consumption of microplastics. Here are some tips for working to eliminate microplastics in your life.

Opt for facial products without microbeads.

A great way to start is to look closely at your facial products, especially the exfoliants. Using an app called Beat the Microbead developed by North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation, you can scan your products to see if they contain microplastic particles.

Trap microfibers in your laundry.

We know microplastics can end up almost anywhere, and a perhaps unexpected place is your laundry machine. When we wash synthetic clothes, microfibers come off the clothes and flow out the drains of our washing machines and eventually into rivers, lakes, and the ocean. You can be part of the solution to reducing the number of microfibers in our waterways (and stomachs) by considering buying the Cora Ball, an innovative ball that catches tiny particles in the water and turns them into visible fuzz so you can dispose of the fibers in the trash, so they don't end up in the water.

Reduce single-use plastic consumption.

Plastic turns into microplastic, so by reducing your consumption of single-use plastics you'll play a part in reducing the number of plastic particles in the environment. We recently heard from the mbg editors about ways they reduce plastic in their lives, and they've got some easy tips that are worth checking out.

While news like this can feel out of our control, the movement to reduce plastic pollution starts with each one of us as the consumers. With these tips and a little more thought about how we consume, we're headed in the right direction.

Caroline Muggia author page.
Caroline Muggia

Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.