It isn't just whales, birds and turtles who are eating plastics. It's humans, cats & dogs too. (If you are eating sushi regularly, you might also be chomping a bit of arsenic with your plastic.)As studies start to reveal the amount of microplastics humans are consuming, the plastics problem in our oceans is moving into our dining rooms and we are swimming in the stuff. It turns out that the ocean isn't the only source of micro-plastics in our lives. There's already a plastics problem in most homes. And I am not talking about the classic 60's Italian lounge protector. Most of the plastic we consume is micro-plastic (not least of all because it's not easy to consume large chunks of plastic) and there are two main sources of the micro-plastics we ingest. Household 'dust' and products of the sea. These aren't the only plastics we ingest - we could, for instance be breathing in micro-plastics, but they most certainly would make up the greatest percentage.Micro-plastics are technically a plastic of any kind that is less than 5 mm and they pretty much form in two ways:
Micro-plastics that are products of 'wear and tear'; Micro-plastics that are products of plastic biodegrading or breaking down.
Something that many people don't realise is that plastic comes in many forms. It isn't just a plastic milk bottle or a plastic bag. Nylon, polyester, synthetic fabrics, polystyrene are all plastics.
Pretty much any micro-plastic that ends up in our oceans can also be directly ingested by us in our own homes, and more. It turns out that our homes are cesspits of micro-plastics and we ingest plenty of them while we are eating. Researchers at Center for Marine Biodiversity & Biotechnology at Scotland-based Heriot-Watt University estimate that the average person consumes anywhere between 13,731 and 68,415 micro-plastic particles each year, simply by eating at home. (Published in Science Direct.)The micro-plastic particles most likely come from synthetic fabrics we wear and wash, carpets and soft furnishings we walk, sit and lie on. These gradually break down or throw off fibres, before binding to household dust. If you drink bottled water, a recent study found an average of 325 micro-plastics (and up to 930 in some brands) in the water of some plastic water bottles - mostly being released by the bottle caps.Tyre wear and tear is one of the biggest contributors to both ocean (5 - 10%) and air micro-plastics (3 - 7%) and according to WHO is a health risk.
Around 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the ocean. Around the world that figure might be closer to 50%, but most certainly the majority of the global population lives close to some kind of waterway and that's how our plastics get there. For years, we have worried about the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans (estimated at around 300 million tons), how it's killing whales & turtles who eat multiple plastics bags they think are food. But the silent and more deadly killer is likely to turn out to be micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are now found in most fish & crustaceans and pretty much all sea salt. And they have even now been found in marine life at the deepest point of our oceans like Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench - nearly 11 kilometres down. According to Newcastle University researchers, "The fragments identified include semi-synthetic cellulosic fibres, such as Rayon, Lyocell and Ramie, which are all microfibres used in products such as textiles, to Nylon, polyethylene, polyamide, or unidentified polyvinyls closely resembling polyvinyl alcohol or polyvinylchloride - PVA and PVC." So it turns out that we really are eating dressed, plastic sushi.
We literally are eating and drinking plastic all the time and while there is plenty we can do to both reduce the amount of micro-plastic we eat & drink and how much we contribute to the bigger problem. We simply need to think and act just a little more about what things we buy and how we dispose of the things buy.
Image: Hero image found on @honestmiracle | Infographic from @refusethestraw