Micro-plastics are tiny plastic particles, smaller than 5-millimeters in diameter, that result from both commercial product development (for example cosmetics) and the breakdown of larger plastics, through various processes such as mechanical disintegration (for example through washing machines), right through to atmospheric agents such as UV radiation.
Researchers have been worried about the potential harms of micro-plastics for almost 20 years, finding them everywhere from the deep oceans, to the Arctic snow and the Antarctic ice. Although the focus was initially on the effect these particles were having on our environment and on marine life, in the last years it’s been found that micro-plastics have well and truly entered the food chain, with a 2019 Canadian research suggesting we eat and breathe in between 74,000 and 121,000 micro plastics a year, with those who drink bottled water taking in an extra 90,000.
However indoor plastic air pollution had received relatively little attention, until now, when a world-first investigation by University of Portsmouth and Good Morning Britain has found that people are breathing in 100 times more micro-plastics in their homes than previously thought.
Micro-plastics come from a number of sources, as well as plastic bags and plastic packaging, they can also enter our homes through synthetic clothing, toys, furnishings, make-up and paint.
This particular study which took place in a London home, suggests that people consume between 2,000 and 7,000 micro-plastics a day, the equivalent of two giraffes standing on top of each other over a year and taller than the Eiffel Tower over a lifetime. These particular samples were taken from three rooms - the kitchen, the master bedroom and the children's’ bedrooms and were mostly a result of carpets, non-cotton bed linen, soft toys and synthetic clothes. In the past when analyzing micro-plastic in kitchens researchers have also found these particles in water (both bottled and tap), as well as beer, salt, sugar, and even seafood. Plastic food containers are also known to shed huge numbers of tiny specks when heated, for example in the microwave.
What effect do they have on our health
Research is ongoing on what damage micro-plastics are doing to our health but the reality is that these tiny pieces could take decades or more to degrade fully, and therefore they are increasingly being found in vital organs in humans such as the brain, womb and lungs.
While the science is in its infancy, there’s potential for these particles to cause inflammation and stress to cells, as well as causing changes in metabolism, affect immunity, affect reproductive capacity, and potentially being carcinogenic to the point in which they can lead to cancer.
What can we do to stop micro plastics taking over our home and the planet?
Say NO to plastic whenever possible. Send a message to manufacturers and support companies that are reducing their plastic footprint and finding alternative ways to wrap their products.
Find more ways to cut down on plastic in the following articles: