We all are aware of the environmental concerns related to plastic. But we never thought that we are consuming plastic directly. We never thought that our food could contain plastic. Plastic that can be harmful to our body. A lot of research is going on this topic. However, scientists have managed to release some data.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics, as the name suggests, are plastic trash of size less than 5 mm. These are a result of the degradation of both commercial commodity development and the breakdown of larger plastics. The tiny plastic material created for commercial use like for cosmetics or for fishing nets is categorized under Primary Microplastic. The debris that we get after the degradation of large plastic materials like bottles is placed under Secondary Microplastic.
Why are Microplastics a matter of concern?
Microplastics caught the attention of the scientists recently.
“Microplastics are a Pandora’s Box of a kind, or at least an infinite source of research questions. However, research evidence relating to microplastics and their effects remains scarce,” says Researcher Samuel Hartikainen from the University of Eastern Finland.
Human activities have caused widespread microplastic contamination. Microplastics are linked with chemicals from manufacturing and that comes from the surrounding habitat. So, there is a consideration regarding their physical and chemical toxicity.
What is the chemical basis of Microplastics?
The plastics tagged as non-toxic are not toxic to till they are a polymer. Monomers which can be potentially harmful are created due to the degradation process.
Some of the plastic’s elements or toxic chemicals recognized by plastics are fatal, including:
- Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
How are microplastics incorporated in our food?
People who meet their recommended water intake through tap water ingest an additional 4,000 plastic parts annually. Those who drink only bottled water ingest an additional 90,000, a study found.
The marine environment has been the major focus when it comes to microplastics. Plastic waste can enter our water bodies and may never break down entirely. Rather, it ‘breaks up’ into smaller and smaller particles thus forming microplastics. The UV radiation from sunlight leads to this system of degradation.
Plastics can travel to certain distances in the currents of water bodies. Fishes, seabirds and other marine creatures consume them. This is how they enter our food chain. Apart from the trophic exchange, there are other ways also for the microplastics to reach our diet. Researches have looked at their possible presence in sea salt, honey, beer, bottled water, organic fertilisers, and even in indoor dust settling on our meals.
What are the health impacts of Microplastics in food?
So the major focus lies on the health impact. Is it safe to consume microplastics? How does the body react to it?
There is no such information available about the number of microplastics a human body can tolerate. In 2017, a study out of King’s College in London hypothesized that, over time, the total effect of consuming plastic could be toxic. Various types of plastic have varying toxic properties. Aggregation of toxic plastic content over time could influence the immune system.
When researchers from Johns Hopkins looked at the impact of eating seafood contaminated with microplastics, they too found the accumulated plastic could damage the immune system and upset gut’s balance.
Like air pollution or harmful construction materials, those who have more exposure or have preexisting conditions may be more prone to face consequences.
How to eat less plastic?
- Drink tap water
- Avoid heating food in the microwave
- Avoid storing food in plastics, instead, use foils it papers
- Do not rely much on packaged food
- Keep your household environment clean
- Don’t pollute water bodies with plastics
- Do not dispose of plastic directly
Though we are surrounded by plastic it should be our concern to focus on its negative impacts. It is our choice to stay as healthy as possible. It is up to us how do we avoid the risks of developing diseases. By limiting the amount of plastic in our day to day life we can decline the negative effects of plastic.
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