Just the idea of feeding the kids microplastics for tea sounds ridiculous. Of course, we wouldn’t knowingly serve our kids tiny bits of plastic with those yummy fish fingers and peas.
But unfortunately, we may not have the option. Less than 5mm in size, these tiny plastic particles are gradually pervading our world.
They come from things like our clothing, plastic tyres, pellets used in manufacturing, paints on buildings and road markings. The list goes on and it’s all stuff that we use all of the time.
Released into our environment, we can then digest them without knowing it. Whilst we might not yet understand the full impact of this on human health, there is genuine concern that these tiny pieces of plastic could harbour chemicals, bacteria and viruses.
For this reason, more and more people are investigating the levels of microplastics in our environment. Here are some of the recent findings:
- Waterways awash with plastics
A recent study by Friends of the Earth revealed the presence of microplastics in all of the waterways they sampled across the UK.
Helped by a team of scientists from Bangor University, they found levels of contaminants in ten iconic waterways. From the River Thames in the South to Loch Lomond in Scotland, microplastics are polluting our rivers, reservoirs, lochs and lakes.
In fact, the River Tame in Greater Manchester contained so much microplastic pollution that the team stopped counting when they got to 1,000 pollutants per litre.
- Plastics in our porpoises and seals
It’s not just our inland waterways that are filling up with microplastics either. They have been found in the English Channel, the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
As such, they are being consumed by our sea fish and marine mammals, with a recent survey finding an average of 5.5 particles in the guts of stranded porpoises, dolphins and seals. It is feared that chemicals in or on these tiny pieces of plastic could cause these creatures to become ill.
But microplastics are also affecting marine life in other ways, for example having a devastating impact on the ability of sea mussels to attach themselves to their surroundings.
- Tap water with a splash of plastics
Not surprisingly, humans, as well as marine life, are also ingesting microplastics when they get near water. One recent study by scientists found that 72% of drinking water samples tested in the UK were contaminated with microplastics.
- Plastic particles in our poo
Microplastics were also found in human stools last year. The small study, carried out by the Environment Agency Austria, found microplastics in the stools of all eight participants drawn from Europe, Russia and Japan.
On average, the participants had 20 particles of microplastic in each 10g of excreta.
Although small in scale, the study indicates that up to 50% of the world population could have several types of microplastic in their poo.
How can we reduce microplastics?
With microplastics invading our waterways, food chain and even our skies, the potential for significant harm to ourselves and our environment is clear.
For this reason, organisations such as Friends of the Earth are calling for stronger legislation to reduce plastic pollution and microplastics.
However, legislation takes time, so it is really important that we all take action to minimise plastic usage and ensure any waste is properly recycled. It is no easy task, but if it helps us to avoid serving up plastic and chips for tea, then it’s definitely worth the effort.