Do Our Bodies Contain Plastics?

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This question might sound weired; how would our bodies contain plastic while we definitely do not consume it? After all, we use plastics in the form of food containers, shopping bags, etc. Unfortunately, the ugly truth is that our bodies do in fact contain plastic! Research has found that our bodies contain fine particles of plastic known as “microplastics”. These are extremely fine plastic particles, some of which cannot be seen by the naked eye. They are produced indirectly from decaying plastic containers, bags, and other plastic products. They can also be produced directly, as they are among the ingredients of some cleaning and makeup products. Microplastics are also harmful for the environment, where the particles can be as big as 5 millimeters.

How do microplastics find their way into our bodies? As a matter of fact, they do that in different ways. For example, when we use plastic food containers and cutlery—especially ones of poor quality—fine plastic particles decay and mingle with the foods and drinks. This occurs particularly during heating, or when serving hot foods in these containers; as a result, microplastics enter our bodies along with the food we eat. Moreover, our bodies absorb small quantities of microplastics found in makeup and cleaning products; such as: toothpaste and skin exfoliation products. Last but not least, rivers and oceans are sadly brimming with large quantities of plastic wastes, which are often consumed by fish and birds by mistake. When we consume these creatures, microplastics find their way into our bodies.

As plastic is a synthetic material that requires millions of years to decay, it has a devastating effect on the environment. Buried plastic wastes make it difficult for plants to absorb nutrients and water from the ground, which has a negative effect on their growth, and consequently, on the environmental balance. Studies have also found that plastic wastes negatively affect the digestive system of marine creatures, sometimes blocking it entirely, leading to death. Naturally, all of this has its toll on humans.

Until now, there are no decisive findings regarding the direct effect of microplastic on human health. Well, it is quite difficult to convince people to let plastics into their bodies voluntarily to study the effects for research purposes! However, preliminary results of some recent studies suggest that microplastics accumulation in the human body can lead to serious damages, including toxicity and some types of cancer. They also suggest that such accumulations could damage the reproduction and nervous systems, specifically in fetuses.

Finally, how do we stop microplastics from getting into our bodies? This requires cooperation between individuals and associations concerned with the environment to find fundamental solutions to the problem of plastic wastes in general. It is also essential to raise awareness about the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic in order to minimize waste. On the personal level, it is important to choose plastic-free products and synthetic-fabrics-free clothes. It is also important to use healthy plastic food containers that do not interact with heat, so that the particles do not mingle with food.

References

britannica.com
oceanservice.noaa.gov
toxtown.nlm.nih.gov


*The original article was publishd in SCIplanet, Sustainable Development Goals III (Summer 2019) issue.

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