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  • Susan Wineland

Microplastics and Ways to Reduce Our Exposure

As the name implies, microplastics are small particles of plastic - from less than 5 millimeters (just over 3/16 of an inch) to smaller than 1 micrometer and invisible to the naked eye. Scientists have only recently been learning more about them and, unfortunately, finding them everywhere on earth.

Some microplastics are in the form of microbeads, i.e., those in detergents and cosmetics. Other microplastics contain products from plastic fibers and plastic trash that are breaking down in our environment and are impossible to remove. Microplastics are a concern because they contain various polymers and additives, such as flame retardants, plastic stabilizers, and colorants. The harmful effects of microplastics on every kind of marine life are continually being studied. When sea life mistakenly ingest the microplastics, they accumulate inside their bodies leading to inflammation, reduced fertility, and other complications leading to death.

Humans are mostly exposed to microplastics by using plastic packaging and materials containing PE (polyethylene), PP (polypropylene), and PS (polystyrene). They can be absorbed, ingested, or inhaled into the body through the skin, gastrointestinal system, or lungs.

According to the National Institutes of Health, these toxic chemicals can cause many health problems. Among them is inflammation linked to cancer and digestive, reproductive, and respiratory diseases as well as chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.

We can reduce our exposure by making good choices:

  • Reduce your plastic use, and recycle all plastics you do have so that they stay out of our streets, rivers, oceans.

  • Avoid bottled water as it contains a great number of microplastics. Use stainless steel, glass, or BPA free plastic bottles.

  • Install a water filter in your home or add one to your kitchen faucet or use a pitcher with a filter.

  • Use reusable coffee mugs.

  • Reduce or eliminate single-use plastics such as straws, bags, and utensils. Buy regular metal utensils from the dollar store or a thrift store to use for picnics and the like. Easy to throw in the dishwasher; if one gets lost, it's no big deal.

  • Use reusable containers to store food, pack lunches, picnics, etc.

  • Choose foods not packaged in plastic.

  • Reduce shellfish consumption. Microplastics are ingested by bottom-feeding shellfish like shrimp, crab, clams, etc.

Ways to Ingest Less Plastic - Tea

Choose tea bags that aren’t made out of PP (polypropylene). Pouring boiling water over a plastic bag can release billions of microplastics into the tea. And, synthetic tea bags are not compostable.

For bag teas, brands that use natural fibers for their tea bags include Republic of tea, Yogi Tea, Pukk, Teapigs, Numi, Stash, Yogi, and Traditional Medicines.

Or, brew loose tea in a reusable metal or glass strainer.

Ways to Ingest Less Plastic - Clothing

Clothing contributes to the microplastic problem since it contains plastic materials like polyester, nylon, polyamide, fleece, spandex, or acrylic. When washing clothes, millions of fibers are washed down the drain and released into wastewater treatment plants that cannot filter them out. Because of that, these fibers end up in a river or ocean and eventually into the food chain.

Good choices:

  1. Choose new or used fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, hemp, viscose, modal, and Tencel which are not made from oil and don't shed plastic microfibers.

  2. Use microplastic catch washing machine bags which protect clothes from abrasive wear and tear and trap microplastic fibers.

  3. Use a Cora ball that collects threads and fibers on its spindles, which can be cleaned as needed and just throw the lint away.

  4. Wash in cold water and fill the washer so that there is less friction and fewer fibers will break off. Hang or dry on low.

Read labels and avoid microplastics in cleaning products, cosmetics, paints, etc. Recycle, reduce, reuse, and educate others about plastic waste and the impacts on the environment and our health. Wise choices will benefit you and everyone else.

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Article originally published in the Milford-Orange Times.


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