Ocean plastic pollution is a massive problem for marine life — but did you know you're eating it?
Research at the University of Victoria suggests humans are unknowingly consuming tens of thousands of plastic particles per year, and the potential health impacts are yet to be known.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that come from the degradation of larger plastic products, the university says. These particles can easily sneak into our bodies undetected, says Kieran Cox, a marine biology PhD candidate at UVic.
Cox is the lead author of a research paper in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology.
“Our research suggests microplastics will continue to be found in the majority — if not all — items intended for human consumption,” says Cox. “We need to reassess our reliance on synthetic materials and alter how we manage them to change our relationship with plastics.”
Cox and his colleagues reviewed 26 previous studies and analyzed the number of microplastics in fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, alcohol, water and air. Based on age, sex and dietary recommendations, the team estimates that a person’s average microplastic consumption is between 70,000 and 121,000 particles per year — with rates rising up to 100,000 for those who drink only bottled water.
The majority of research to date has focused on seafood, but the UVic study indicates a significant amount of plastic humans consume may be in the air we breathe or water we drink.
"More research is needed on microplastic levels in our foods — particularly major food groups like beef, poultry, dairy and grains — in order to understand health impacts and the broader problem of plastic pollution," says Cox.
— Jon Manchester, Castanet