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22 February 2018

The plastic invasion. How plastic is impacting our health and the environment.

We’re all aware of the impact of the accumulating mass of plastic pollution on our environment. Countless articles have been written and research undertaken has led scientists to uncover microplastics in the stomachs of birds and small marine animals. Now researchers have found plastic particles in our drinking water leading to serious concerns for the health of current and future civilisations. 

We have produced more plastic in the first ten years of this century then we have in the whole of the last twentieth century. Since the 1950s, we have produced over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic and only 20% of the plastic we currently use each year is recycled or incinerated. So, what happens to the remaining 80% of plastic used? It ends up in landfill, in our oceans, or worse in the stomachs of animals who mistake it for food.

If plastic is harming our wildlife, could it be affecting us too? This was the question raised by scientists at Orb Media who recently completed a global study to understand if microplastic fibres were present in tap water from cities around the world. In a first of its kind study, Orb Media and partners collected and tested samples from 12 nations across 6 continents and discovered more than 80% of the water collected was contaminated with plastic particles.

The United States water samples had the highest contamination rate with 94% of plastic particles found in water samples from well-known buildings and landmarks including the Trump Tower in New York, Congress buildings, and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters. Closely following the United States were Lebanon and India. Water samples collected in the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still high at 72%.

Scientists say if plastic particles are in our drinking water, they’re surely in our food too. This has been the case for the small aquatic animals including small fish and prawns, and it has now been found in sea salt. In a separate study, tiny particles of plastic have been discovered in store bought sea salt products in the UK, France, Spain, China and US. These studies prove plastic is infiltrating our lives and potentially harming our health.

Plastic is a terrible chemical produced product that causes more damage the longer it remains on the planet. It is virtually indestructible and doesn’t biodegrade; instead it breaks down into smaller fragments, some in nanometer scale (one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimetre). These are called microplastics and they are everywhere. They are floating in the atmosphere around us; shedding from our plastic produced clothing and the dust from tyres of the passing cars around us. These plastic particles are nearly impossible to see and therefore can easily be consumed and absorbed by our bodies. Studies have found particles in nanometer scale have the ability to penetrate the intestinal wall and be transported to other bodily organs including the lymph nodes.

Although there are currently no advanced filtration systems that can filter out plastic particles in nanometer scale, you can still do your bit to reduce your plastic impact on the environment by refusing to use single use plastics and wearing clothing made from natural fibres.

Orb Media: Invisibles - The plastic inside us
The Guardian: Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, studies show

Related: Shave waste free and save the environment; The environmental problem with palm oil; What is a circular economy?

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


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