6 ways to reduce the number of microplastics that enter your body daily
The average person ingests at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year, a recent study has suggested.
Perhaps the most visible sign of environmental degradation around is the plastic that lines our streets. It overflows from the bins, clogs our drains and hangs from the trees and electrical lines. Dig a patch of earth and you are likely to come across plastic buried there years ago.
Studies done over the past decade have shown that this plastic ends up in the food we eat and the water we drink: when exposed to the elements over a period of time, plastic breaks down and turns into nearly invisible microplastics. The average person ingests at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year, a recent study has suggested.
Microplastics are plastic structures less than 5mm long. Typically, they are a tiny part of a larger piece of plastic that has degraded over time. Certain other structures called microbeads make up a lot of cosmetic products and even toothpaste - they are miniature to begin with and can enter our bodies directly on using these products.
While the environmental impact of plastic is well documented, the impact of microplastics on animals and humans is less clear. It is a chemically inert substance so it does not induce an immune reaction. However, certain toxic substances can stick to plastic, and if they pass through the lining of the gut, they can have adverse consequences.
Research is still on around the health effects of microplastics. In the meantime, here is a list of some daily products that contain microplastics or microbeads, and some alternatives to them:
1) Synthetic clothing: Clothing made of polyester, lycra, nylon or rayon is made of synthetic fibres. So your gym clothes, fleece jackets, leggings will have been made from synthetic fibres. In the washing machine, they shed as many as 700,000 particles of microfibres per cycle. It is a good idea to get a washing machine with special filters if you regularly use synthetic clothing. Alternatively, clothes made from natural fibres such as cotton can be used.
2) Exfoliating face washes: Microbeads are usually what provide the exfoliating capabilities of face washes. These are hard to filter out of water supplies once they seep in through the sink. Luckily, there are DIY face washes made from organic products that can help to avoid this. A mixture of lime juice and sugar makes for a good exfoliant, as do coffee grounds and loose tea leaves.
3) Toothpaste: Similar to cosmetic products, whitening toothpaste contains microbeads that you may swallow when you brush. Toothpaste made at home from baking soda and salt and water is a good alternative.
4) Teabags: Late last year studies revealed that higher-end "silk" tea bags leak microplastics into your favourite brew. Teabags are made of paper or plastic to make them durable. There are some alternatives that use organic cotton to make teabags, but they will be more expensive. It may be best to simply brew tea in a kettle or invest in a stainless steel steeper.
5) Takeaway plates, cups and bags: These are lined with a layer of polyethylene. While it is really difficult to completely stop using plastic utensils and bags, given their convenience, it will make a difference if you use reusable cloth bags or backpacks when you go grocery shopping. Similarly, taking a mug or your own utensils to work will also reduce the need for one-time use plastic.
6) Tyres: Tyres are made from rubber mixed with certain plastics. As the tyres wear out, they release microplastics into the air. Tyres also don’t fully break down when replaced. However, moving back to making tyres entirely from natural latex will have a devastating impact on the environment and the habitat of certain endangered species.
While plastic is unlikely to go out of our lives completely (its uses are just too broad and cost-efficient) there are always steps that responsible citizens can take to reduce their own footprint. While the health effects are not currently well understood, it is a good idea to develop alternatives because the environmental effect is not disputed.
For more information, read our Home Remedies for Teeth Whitening.
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