Plastic is really all around you. It is in your phone, clothes or fridge. Oceans, rivers and lakes are full of our plastic waste. Not mentioning hundreds of tons waste ending up on a rubbish dump. We live in a plastic age. And plastic is slowly getting into our bodies. How? By water, we are drinking.
Around 8 million tons of the trash ends up in waterways yearly. Scientists for an investigation by Orb Media therefore asked themselves: If microscopic plastic is in oceans, lakes, and rivers, is it in drinking water as well? Their question was studied and tested all around the world. The results are alarming.
83% of samples worldwide contained microscopic plastic fibers
More than 80% samples collected on 5 continents were tested positive on microscopic plastic fibers in tap water. Microplastics are formed from larger plastic pieces, which are broken down and eroded. They have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses. Yet, there are no specific procedures exist for filtering them.
The US had the highest contamination rates: 94%. Lebanon and India had next highest rates of 93.8% and 82.4%. Europe has the lowest contamination, however, still a lot- 72%. The average number of plastic fibers in 500ml of drinking water was from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.
Scientists say, that these numbers were found also in TOP US bottled water brands. They add, that bottled water is not an exception.
Plastic cannot be destructed and biodegraded. It will just break down to even smaller pieces, into particles in nanometer scale — one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter. What does it mean for human body? Particles of nanometer size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs.
Scientists also claim, that if plastic is in your drinking water, it is definitely in your food as well. Whether the food is from your kitchen or a grocery store. It is very likely, that you are eating your pasta and sauce together with microscopic plastic fibers.
It is not only about plastic packages. There are so called invisible plastic, which also affect the environment in a big scale.
- Synthetic clothes: Fleece, acrylic, polyester emit thousands of microplastics in every wash. It is estimated, that 1 million tons of these micro fibers ends up in waterways yearly. More than half of it escape into environment.
- Tire dust: Cars and Trucks emit into the environment more than 20 grams of tire dust for every 100 km they drive.
- Paint: Dust from road markings, ship paint and house paint contribute more than 10% of microplastic pollution in the oceans.
- Microbeads: They are already being banned in some cosmetics in countries like US or Canada. Still, it has a big impact on waterways in countries. In 2015, 8 trillion microbeads polluted US waterways.
What should we do?
Orb Media challenge people to take a paper bag and fill it up with all single- plastic they use in one day. In the end of a day, they should take the things out, put it on a floor and take a picture for Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #OrbPlastics. This will help you and other people to see, how much plastic do we use in one day.
Whenever you fractionalize a problem, as with the plastic industry not being held responsible for their particular types of waste, there’s capacity for that industry then to blame another. So it’s waste management; it’s not the producer’s fault. It’s the sewage treatment people’s fault. It’s not the actual clothing manufacturer’s fault. It’s the people who’ve got the washing machine’s fault. It’s somebody else’s fault. Generally speaking, it’s all of our fault.
Tweet—Mark Browne, Ph.D.
The one way how to keep plastic away is to start from yourself. Rethink how you use plastic. Try to implement some of the rules of zero-waste lifestyle (reduce, reuse, recycle). Buy products like Cora Ball, which catches up to 35% of fibers released in single load of laundry or even better- try to wear only natural clothes. Use bamboo or flax toothbrush. Skip the plastic bag, straws and use reusable water bottles. Share a ride, take public transport and -what is the most important- spread the idea to your friends.
Cover image: photo via pxhere