Unless you have been living under a rock, you have been exposed to plastic. It is literally everywhere, in our homes, cars, foods, etc. Just take a look next time you are at the grocery store- how many fruits and vegetables are contained, covered, or stored in some sort of plastic? How do you leave with your groceries- are your items placed into a plastic bag? That plastic bag goes with you to your home and then what happens to that bag? Do you recycle it? Do you toss it? Do you reuse it? What about the soup cans you bought or bag of water bottles? The truth of the matter is most of us do not even think twice about the plastics we consume; it has become a part of life- like our morning coffee or brushing our teeth at night.
The problem with being blissfully ignorant (let’s face it, most of us are so don’t feel bad about yourself), is that we are causing harm to ourselves and our environment. OK, you may be feeling a little guilty but, hey! you didn’t know. Now that I have your attention let me bring you in on a secret of why we give a $hit about microplastics and why you should too.
What is microplastic, you may be asking? Good question- it is not something that is often discussed in media outlets which seem more concerned with the latest reality star’s relationship break-up. I mean, who doesn’t care if Kyle Jenner is on or off with Travis Scott? The planet, that is who cares! If we do not wake up and take action, poor Kyle Jenner will not have a planet to make billions, oh wait- neither will you! Sorry, I digress!
Ok, back to microplastics. According to the Ocean Service, “Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes, posing a potential threat to aquatic life.”
How It Is Affecting Us All
What does this mean for you? You are ingesting tiny particles of microplastic when you take a bite of food or drink a glass of water. Sounds pretty disgusting, doesn’t it? The research on microplastic is still so new that many researchers do not know the long-term health effects of ingesting these tiny particles.
Pete Myers, founder and chief scientist of the nonprofit Environmental Health Services and adjunct professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University opined that “ingesting microplastics could further expose us to chemicals found in some plastics that are known to be harmful. These chemicals have been linked to a variety of health problems, including reproductive harm and obesity, plus issues as organ problems and developmental delays in children.” (Washington Post)
By now you may be thinking to yourself, “how the heck are we ingesting microplastic?” Because humans have produced more than 8 billion tons of plastic (since 1950s) and only 10% or less has been recycled. Over time, the plastics we have produced have broken down into tiny particles that have made their way to lakes, rivers, and oceans- eventually contaminating our food supply. Not to mention our oceanic ecosystem. Remember how we thought about our grocery store experience earlier? Well guess what, that food you purchased covered in plastic is also finding its way into your food as tiny particles break off into our meals.
How Much Are We Ingesting?
The World Wildlife Fund conducted research at the University of Newcastle in Australia and estimated that people consume about 5 grams of plastic a week- roughly the equivalent of a credit card. Looking at my credit card is just not the same…
Think we are ingesting microplastic only from our food and water? Think again, we are breathing in tens of thousands of tiny plastic particles every year.
Chemicals in plastics known as bisphenol A and phthalates (if you cannot pronounce it, it must not be good for you, right?) are known to interfere with hormones and some studies have linked bisphenol A exposure to fertility issues in men and women. Another type of chemical found in plastic known as Styrene, has been associated with hearing loss, cancer, and nervous system issues.
In a 2018 article, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned parents against the use of plastics because of the dangerous chemicals, “Children may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these compounds, given that they have higher relative exposures compared with adults (because of greater dietary intake per pound), their metabolic (ie, detoxification) systems are still developing, and key organ systems are undergoing substantial changes and maturation that are vulnerable to disruptions.” The article goes on to recommend parents use alternatives to plastic whenever possible.
What We Can Do
Now that we have scared the lights out of you- well, we hope not but we do hope to instill an awareness, let me outline some ways you can curtail your exposure to microplastics or chemicals found in plastics:
- Do not heat your food in plastic
- Avoid putting plastic containers in the dishwasher
- Avoid plastic containers with the recycling codes, “3,” “6,” “7”
- Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables
- Use a glass water bottle
- Use a reusable tote bag
- Use compostable straws
While we cannot completely eliminate plastic in our every day (yet), taking necessary steps to curb our exposure will help not only our health but also our environment.
We have to think big picture and long-term. Each of us has a responsibility to our environment and while implementing change is not always easy, it doesn’t have to be hard.
Start by making one small change in your daily habit: eliminate plastic bags, use a compostable not a plastic straw, use a reusable water bottle (glass or stainless steel- preferred).
We know you can do it. We bet even Kyle Jenner wants a better future for her daughter!
XO, Beans N Canes.