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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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