What is microplastic and why do we eat a credit card weekly?

What is microplastic and why do we eat a credit card weekly?

The development of our civilization carries previously unknown threats. The ubiquitous plastic that was created to make our lives easier begins to threaten us in a rather uncontrolled way.

Plastic floating in the oceans, lying on landfills or found in the stomachs of whales is a problem that seems distant to us - fenced off with a tv screen, we do not feel this problem directly. Just like the greenhouse effect - it is underestimated until many people experience record heat or climate anomalies. However, plastic appeared in human life in a new and suprising way. We inhale it, eat it and drink it with water. How is this possible? The answer is microplastic.

You can see a movie about this phenomenon here: FILM

These relatively new concepts are not yet fully defined as they have not been fully explored. It is currently assumed that these are pieces of plastic less than 5 mm, but they can measure even less than 0.1 µm. Smaller fragments are then called nano plastic.

The source of micro and nano plastic is the ever-increasing amount of waste produced by humanity and the increasing pollution of the environment. A huge amount of plastic garbage floating in the seas and oceans is crumbled by nature, but it is not very biodegradable. The effect is a mixture of water and micro plastic that affects the entire ecosystem. It settles on coral reefs and is absorbed by all aquatic organisms - including fish, which we later eat.

At present, not all properties of plastic particles are known. Recent discoveries during rainwater research in the Rocky Mountains or the Pyrenees indicate that the particles are small enough to float in the air. Their presence was detected at an altitude of 1400 m and at a distance of up to 100 km from areas frequently visited by people. This indicates that the particles can be transported over huge distances.

By moving in the air, they became part of our environment, and falling with rain, they settle on crops and end up in groundwater. In addition, micro-particles from the production or use of plastic end up in the sewage. For example, during one wash fabrics made of acrylic fibers may separate up to 730 thousand micro plastic fibers that end up in the wastewater.

Water treatment processes used by wastewater treatment plants do not remove the finest particles, making tap water the main source of plastic consumption. Even worse is the situation with bottled water, which can even double the amount absorbed.

Adding to this plastic derived from food, it turns out that the exposure to this type of pollution is high. According to current research, on average, every person on earth eats over 5 grams of plastic per week (!), which corresponds to a typical credit card.

Studies conducted in the United States show that, depending on gender and age, Americans consume from 74,000 up to 121,000 pieces of microplastic. Drinking bottled water increased the amount of absorbed particles by 90,000 particles per year compared to those who drink tap water.

Currently, a small number of studies are being conducted on the presence of plastic in the environment or in food. In addition, detection of the smallest particles is difficult, which means that our exposure to this type of pollution can be much higher. They also don't include micro and nano plastic that we breathe in. Since the particles can be smaller than 1μm, they are an unknown danger. To compare the hazards of inhaling plastic particles, PM2.5 suspended particulates are considered to be particles that do not exceed 2.5μm in size. Such small objects can float in the air, penetrate the body's respiratory tract, enter the bloodstream, accumulate in the cells, affect negatively the immune system. The microplastic is not biodegradable, and the human body may not be able to get rid of accumulated particles. In addition, plastic may be toxic. It is also not known how small the particles may be or what their final impact on health is, because not enough research has been carried out on this issue.

Unfortunately, in our own houses we are very exposed to microplastics. It breaks down under the influence of friction, temperature or sunlight. It can come from everyday items - not only plastic bags, packaging, bottles, toys or clothes and textiles, but it is present in many places that we do not expect. These can be toothpaste, cosmetics, but also paints and building materials. Some of these particles are "designed" to fulfill their role in products, such as peeling granules for exfoliation.

The new face of plastic has become a fact. It is an unknown threat to health, and its quantity in our environment, especially airborne will increase. Initiatives to recall plastic, improve recycling processes and develop methods for removing it from the ecosystem are the key, but these are long-term measures. Each of us can improve the situation by choosing reusable bags, buying clothing made of natural fibers or limiting the purchase of water in plastic bottles.

To protect against inhalation of air contaminated with plastic, we can use appropriate quality anti-smog masks and scarves, meeting the N99 standards, which will retain even 0.1 micron plastic particles. This will protect us from outdoor air pollution. However, inside buildings, you should think about buying an air purifier that will improve the quality of indoor air.