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We eat, drink and breathe more than 100,000 microplastics per year

Amsterdam, 27 June 2019 – The fact that each day we eat, drink and breathe microplastics has been known for some time; but the number of microplastics involved was still unclear. Researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada have now investigated how many microplastics an average American citizen intakes. An estimate was also made for American children.

Estimates

Based on previously published data on microplastics in food & beverage and in the air, the researchers made estimates of the minimum intake. An adult male in America intakes the most plastic particles: about 121,000 microplastics per year. For women the figure is 98,000 particles. The largest sources of microplastics turned out to be bottled water, fish and shellfish. Bottled water contains no less than 94 particles of microplastics per litre, compared to 4 particles per litre in tap water. It is estimated that children ingest between 74,000 and 81,000 plastic particles annually.

Gross underestimation

However, the available data is far from complete. For example, there is no data available on the amount of microplastics in chicken, beef, cereals and vegetables. The food & beverage groups included in this study therefore represent only 15% of the calorie intake of the average American. For this reason, according to the researchers, the figures presented are probably a gross underestimation of the actual exposure. They recommend research into other food groups in order to obtain a more complete picture.

WWF campaign

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently started a new campaign: we would ingest five grams of microplastics per week, comparable to the weight of a credit card. These five grams are based on an intake via food & drink of about 2,000 particles per week, of which 90% is through bottled water. The Canadian study also found around 2,000 particles per week, but that includes the particles we breathe. The WWF did not consider airborne intake.

Knowledge gap has health consequences

However, it does not seem appropriate to emphasise the weight of the intake. It is suspected that the most harmful particles weigh the least. This is also emphasised by the Canadian researchers. The smaller, and therefore lighter, particles may be able to pass through the intestinal and lung barriers and spread through the rest of our bodies. However, it is not known to what extent these particles are ingested, as they are so small that they cannot be detected with the current measurement methods.

Plastic Soup Foundation is concerned that so little research has been done into the health effects of micro- and nanoplastics and wants to know if we become sick from them. The aim of the Plastic Health Coalition, a partnership between scientists and environmental organisations initiated by the Plastic Soup Foundation, is to answer this question.


Read also – Plastic in your body: emphasis on size rather than weight
Read also – Health Council: “Prevent health risks caused by micro and nanoplastics”

Camera in Wageningen captures coral eating plastic

Amsterdam, 12 June 2019 – Filmed for the first time: coral eating microplastics. And they even seem to enjoy it. A marine biologist from Wageningen University and Research (WUR) has the disturbing primeur.

Coral normally feeds on plankton. In 2015, researchers discovered that stony corals are unable to distinguish between plankton and microplastics when filtering water. Analysis at the time showed that 21% of the corals investigated contained at least one microplastic. Many animals mistake plastic for food, but coral does not have eyes. Other researchers therefore made the assumption in 2017 that corals eat plastic because they like the taste. The phenomenon has now been filmed.

Tasty additives?

Coral turns out to have a preference for clean plastic above plastic that is covered by a layer of bacteria. The plastic, itself, seems to be a treat for the plankton. It seems likely that this is the result of the chemical additives in plastic. The corals ate all of the different kinds of plastic that were tested, but showed no interest in sand. The coral can’t properly process the plastic that is swallowed. It is also clear that, as a result of the growing plastic pollution, corals more regularly come into contact with plastic.

Filmed: coral eating plastic

Tim Wijgerde, a marine biologist from Wageningen University, has been studying coral for years, specifically recovery and conservation of coral riffs. He has successfully filmed coral consuming various pieces of plastic. Wijgerde: “Although we already knew that corals can eat plastic, there were no clear recordings of this behaviour until now. So I set up a high-resolution camera above coral polyps in our coral lab in Wageningen, and fed the coral with pieces of plastic of about 2 millimetres. Within an hour it was evident that our coral also found the plastic very tasty. The next step will be to investigate how harmful microplastic is for the continued existence of coral.”

Watch Tim’s film, A Reef by Night and Day. The film runs for 12 minutes: The fragment alluded to above starts after 10 minutes and 40 seconds.


Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick

Mopping up with the plastic-soup tap left open….

Recycling. A word that makes me happy. Like the swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of the skipping rope as pretty young girls in their light summer frocks jump up and down on a glorious sunny day. The effortless movement that seems able to go on for ever, Leonardo da Vinci’s perpetual motion machine. Recycling sounds like healthy, economical and sensible. Something which everybody would support and to which nobody could object.

If I think of recycling, I think of pumpkin peel, broccoli stumps and all the other vegetable scraps that are left over in my kitchen: I drop it in the recycling bin and later on I buy it back as compost to pamper my garden. I think of my cupboards, too small to offer sanctuary to everything which I wanted to save. It’s all languishing in the second-hand shop now, waiting to start a new life in a new collection tomorrow. Nothing but praise for recycling.

Initially, recycling plastic also sounded like music to my ears. It sounded to me like a happy solution for the devilish problem of the plastic that has been taking a continually stronger grasp on our world: the plastic bottles, bags, chairs – what isn’t made of plastic these days? – that ends up as litter on our streets and in our rivers, flowing to the sea where it – disintegrating to ever-smaller pieces – chokes the stomachs of unfortunate birds and fish. Or the plastic microfibers that float through the air and threaten our health. Recycling seemed a decisive step in the battle against that kind of misery.

Until I started looking at the figures.

The amount of newly-produced, un-recycled plastic in the world is growing at a tremendous rate. An additional 380 billion tons in 2018, within 10 years that means 530 billion tons of plastic per year. Exactly how much ends up as litter – in the fields, in the water or in the air – is not known, at least 16 billion kilos per year, maybe a lot more. Large multinational companies argue that all their plastic packaging will use recycled raw materials by 2025. That sounds impossible to achieve, but apart from that: it’s still plastic packaging. And a percentage of that will still end up in the ocean, the “lungs” of the word. Or in our own lungs.

Now, if I think of plastic recycling, I no longer think of girls having fun with their skipping rope, but of poor wretches mopping up the mess while the plastic soup continues to gush from the open tap. A PET bottle made of recycled plastic may use less petroleum to produce than a bottle made of new plastic – and that’s good – but we will not solve The Big Plastic Problem by migrating to recycled plastic.

The only real solution has the simplicity of a light summer frock: bring less plastic products to market. As a start: no more single-use plastics, like PET bottles and plastic bags. And the plastic that does still reach the shelves: collect it efficiently, for example with a deposit scheme.

Surrounded as we are by so many clever people in this world, surely we can start this movement without too much trouble?

Swoosh…….Swoosh……..Swoosh……..

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The plastic broth in my body…

Thanks to Dutch national hero Boyan Slat, we all know the truth these days: our oceans are full of plastic. Even in the Mariana Trench, a trough in the western Pacific Ocean, miniscule pieces of plastic still swirl around at a depth of almost seven miles. A long way away, was my initial reaction: but now it seems that our own North Sea is also a well-filled plastic soup and even the gentle River Maas carries raw plastic rubbish. Now I’m only waiting for the news that there’s plastic in the ground water under my feet. That will be the end of it, it can’t come any closer. I thought. I hoped.

Until somebody thrust a list under my nose. A list full of things that I use every day. Some of them made from plastic, others which I would never have dreamt contained plastic: tea bags, table salt, honey, beer…..

The Plastic Soup Foundation and the VU University Amsterdam will this year be researching what the effect is on our bodies. A question which had never occurred to me….

The test list includes the plastic kettle, and in my imagination I clearly remember the trusty, bubbling machine that brightened my kitchen for many years. Hundreds of pots of tea I made with that machine. My mind conjures up a memory of a convivial cloud of steam. The test will tell me whether or not I was swallowing tiny pieces of microplastic, hardening agent and flame retardant as I slurped my tea. Oops.

The test list contains more surprises. It’s probable that I am massaging poisonous plasticisers and nanoplastic particles in to my skin every day as I apply my super-soft day cream. Sunscreen, shower cream, shampoo, make-up: same story. I begin to feel a bit uncomfortable, and quickly pass over the question what the plasticizers that are apparently included in tampons may be doing to me…..

My house turns out to be full of plastics that the researchers want to investigate with regard to their effect on my health. Those handy bottles and containers in the kitchen. The sport clothes that make me feel so fit. The warm fleece blanket that I wrap myself in on the couch. My yoga mat for those quiet moments. The rug in front of the fire, the curtains, even the paint on the walls. Is a bit of all of those things now part of the inner me?

It’s hard to buy an apple any more that has not been made more attractive by the application of a shiny coating of plastic. To be safe, it will be tested for all kinds of undesirable substances: plasticisers and hardening agents, flame retardants, fluorides, micro- and nanoplastics. It’s known that these substances are in some way related to a lot of the typical ailments of our time, such as ADHD, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. I’m in two minds: do I really want to know?

In the end, it’s the inclusion of milk powder for babies on the list that really gets my attention. Even that contains tiny particles of plastic. So we are feeding on plastic, every day, starting from our earliest days. In that way, the soup is very close to home: it seems I may have my own plastic broth in my body.

I need to know more about that.

 

Translated from a Dutch-language column by Renske Postma

Microplastics now found in underground drinking water reservoirs

Amsterdam, 05 February 2019 – Microplastics are found in surface water all over the world. Now for the first time they have also been found in underground layers of soil and rock that contain water. About one quarter of the drinking water provision in the world depends on underground water reservoirs. These reservoirs are filled with surface water that slowly seeps through the porous layers. As these reservoirs are connected to surface water sources, these latter sources can becomepolluted.

Researchers studied 17 samples from two separate underground reservoir systems in Illinois, USA. Their research was published this month in the journal Groundwater. All the samples bar one showed microplastics. The maximum concentration was 15 microplastics per litre. All microplastics were fibres. Given the combination of the microplastics and other substances that included phosphates, chloride and triclosan, the researchers believe that the source of the pollution is primarily household septic tanks.

Households that are not connected to the sewage system use these tanks for waste water as a purification system. The sludge is regularly removed and the purified water is discharged in the surface water. The waste water of washing machines and dryers also enters these tanks first. Machine washing and drying synthetic clothing releases millions of plastic microfibres. Given that these fibres are virtually weightless, they do not sink to the bottom. In an interview, one of the authors stated, “Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibres find their way into the septic tanks in only one wash. And then imagine how easily the water from the septic tanks can enter the groundwater, and certainly in the places where the surface water and the groundwater are directly
connected.”

In the Netherlands, households that are further than 40 metres from a sewer may discharge purified waste water from a septic tank into the surface water. Nothing is set down by law in the Besluit lozing afvalwater huishoudens (provision on discharging household waste water, in Dutch) to prevent plastic microfibres from entering the environment in this way.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “It is extremely worrying that groundwater appears to contain microplastics. To what extent are septic tanks indeed the source? We expect questions to be asked in the House of Representatives so that the scale of this source of pollution and what can be done about it are made known.”

WASTE2WEAR HIDES THE REAL PROBLEM: MICROFIBRES

Amsterdam, 18 December 2018 – The company Waste2Wear produces brand clothing made from PET bottles. 30% of those plastic bottles are retrieved from the ocean. Several clothing brands joined this initiative, brands such as Promiss, Claudia Sträter, Wehkamp, Steps, Oilly, Joolz and Expresso. Together with these companies, Waste2Wear’s Ocean Plastic Project processes two million bottles into 100,000 fashion items for the winter of 2018. Waste2Wear may seem to be a sympathetic idea: “We work together on solutions and say NO against Ocean Pollution.”

However, there is one big problem. The wear and washing of synthetic clothing generates millions of microfibers. A 2016 study of the European Mermaids Life+, published in Environmental Pollution, showed that on average 9 million of microfibers are released during the laundry cycle of 5 kilos of synthetic clothing. And these fibers are so tiny that they can found everywhere, in the air, in house dust and in
the water. These microfibers become part of the food chain and enter our bodies. This causes researchers great concern.

Does Waste2Wear try to save to world by removing plastic bottles from the ocean and recycling them into new clothing? Or is Waste2Wear part of the plastic soup problem? As this company’s clothing produces
microfibers?

On their website Waste2Wear discusses the microfiber problem. Waste2Wear recognizes in their FAQs that microfiber pollution is a major and growing concern for the textile and clothing industry. And there is a long way to go before this problem is solved. However, they continue to state that recycled plastics produce 55% less microfibers than the normal polyester. These numbers supposed to originate from a Swedish study. The first results of this research are “very positive for recycled plastic.”

This is where Waste2Wear misleads the readers. The quoted study from 2017, does not mention this number of 55% anywhere. Furthermore, the research never draws the conclusion that it is better to use recycled plastics. The study does state that it cannot support the, often made, assumption that textiles made from recycled polymers generate more microfibers than clothing made from “new”
plastics.

The same authors published in Sustainability, the article “Microplastics Shedding from Textiles” in 2018. This article does not support the Waste2Wear claim either. On the contrary: “The results show little difference in [shedding] between virgin and recycled content in the fabric.”

Waste2Wear says NO against Ocean Pollution, but the painful truth is that Waste2Wear is part of the plastic soup problem.

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“Do not reuse supermarket water bottles”

Amsterdam, 20 December 2018– Australian researchers recommend not to reuse plastic bottles, that, filled with water, are sold in supermarkets,

Professor Anas Ghadouani and his team at the University of Western Australia in Perth have tested metal and plastic water bottles. The immediate cause was that more and more people refill purchased bottles with tap water for environmental reasons; it means that you do not need to buy a bottle again and again. But how harmful is this refilling plastic bottles for your health?

According to Ghadouani glass and metal bottles are safest, especially bottles made from stainless steel. They are followed by the plastic bottles that are specially made to be reused, such as for instance a Dopper. The professor says that in general it is wise not to do this longer than one year.

Refilling PET bottles is nothing short of the worst option, as there will always be plastic particles in the water. Especially when you place such a bottle in the sun, many microplastics are released.

Read the university’s  press release.


Also read: Microplastics in bottled water

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