When it comes to plastic consumption, we usually think about our poor usage of plastic water bottles, bags, straws, and how it pollutes the environment – ending up in the noses of endangered sea turtles. You can now add yourself to the list because according to a study done by the University of Newcastle, Australia, we have actually been ingesting plastic, eating as much as a credit card (approximately five grams) a week!
Our oceans are heavily polluted with the International Union for Conservation of Nature reporting a shocking eight million tons of plastic being dumped a year. This has caused plastics to make up 80% of all marine debris, from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, giving rise to drinking water (both bottled and tap) as the single largest source of plastic ingestion. The plastics break down into microplastics and leak into our food chain with high levels found in shellfish, beer and salt.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics consist of any plastic particles that are smaller than 5mm. Primary microplastics enter the environment as small particulates, such as microbeads and microfibers, and secondary microplastics come from the degradation of larger plastic like plastic bags. Neither of them are biodegradable and have been extremely difficult to remove, causing severe injuries and deaths to marine animals that eat or get entangled in the plastic debris.
How do they affect our health?
A number of scientists and organizations, including the World Health Organization, are growing concerned by the potential negative health effects of plastics. Although more research is needed, the Plastic Health Coalition was formed to find out evidence on the endocrine disrupting chemicals, which are usually found in plastics, and their link to our hormones and immune systems, and causing cancer.
What can we do to reduce plastic consumption?
- Switch out face scrubs with harmful microbeads for chemical exfoliators. Not only are they more gentle on your skin – they are more effective too! Find out more in our beginner’s guide to chemical exfoliation here.
- Look out for the “Zero Plastic Inside” logo, which can be hard to find, so Beat The Microbead (an international campaign against plastic in cosmetics) has created a search engine to help you find out what products still contain microbeads and microplastics ingredients.
- If you’ve already made the change from single-use makeup wipes to a reusable makeup remover cloth, please make sure It’s not a microfiber cloth as they are not biodegradable. See our list of reusable beauty products for natural cotton and bamboo alternatives.
- Plastic water bottles contain twice the amount of microplastics than tap water. Avoid consuming these particles by finally giving up the disposables and using a refillable water bottle.
- Use loose tea leaves instead of plastic teabags as they have been found to release billions of microplastics into your tea itself. Unfortunately, manufacturers have replaced traditional paper tea bags with plastic ones.
As you’ve noticed from restaurants not using plastic straws and stores charging for plastic bags, Malaysia already has a roadmap towards zero single-use plastics in place. It’s a great first step for us to be more mindful of our everyday consumption, but to take further action against plastic pollution, you can check out these campaigns and get involved: