It’s the time of year when junk food abounds. What about junk in our food?
Add in the particles of plastic we inhale, the average person ingests at least 74,000 particles a year.
Although no comprehensive studies have been concluded on the health effects of ingesting plastic, common plastics are made from chemicals that do have documented adverse health effects. Plastics don’t biodegrade but break down into microscopic particles. At a small enough scale, the particles can penetrate cell walls and organs.
So here’s a holiday un-recipe -- tips to help cut down how much plastic you might inadvertently ingest. You won’t be able to avoid all microplastics or the chemicals in them, but there are ways to reduce your risk of exposure.
Drink tap water. Drinking bottled water is one of the biggest contributors to microplastic ingestion and pollution. According to study estimates, people who drink water from plastic bottles could be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics per year, compared to 4,000 microplastics for those who consume only tap water.
Other studies show that bottled water has about double the microplastic level of tap water.
Don’t heat food in plastic. Plastics have been known to leach chemicals into food when heated. That’s not just when warming up food or eating. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends not putting plastic in dishwashers.
Avoid plastic food containers with recycling codes 3, 6, and 7. According to the AAP study, those plastics, unless they’re labeled “biobased” or “greenware,” contain harmful bisphenols that studies have shown tend to leak into foods.
Eat more fresh food. Although there aren’t yet studies examining the microplastics and chemicals in fresh produce, limiting the contact your food has had contact or is in direct contact with plastics can help.
Dust. Household dust can include plastics. When kicked up, the fibers and particles can be inhaled.
These are small measures to guard against a growing problem of plastic pollution. To really address the problem will take big solutions, or many people taking small measures. Since 1950, about 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been created and all of it is still in the environment somewhere. About 8 million tons of plastic are discarded into oceans each year with more than 180 million tons already in the oceans.
Plastics are still cheap, light and in some cases are an essential material for hygiene and safety. However, we’re only beginning to learn about the harms plastic presents.