How microplastics affect human health and how to avoid them

Plastic is incredibly durable and hard to break down, which is why it’s so useful, and also why it’s so damaging to the environment. While it forms wonderfully resilient tupperware,  it degrades very slowly - for instance, plastic bottles can take 450 years to decompose in landfill. As plastic breaks down, it eventually forms pollutants called microplastics - plastic particles less than 5mm in size. Microplastics have been found virtually everywhere, from the guts of fish and insects to soils and the Mariana trench - the deepest part of the ocean.

Microplastics have even been found in human faeces and alarmingly more so in that of infants than that of adults. How much these microplastics poison us depends very much on how quickly they pass through our system. A recent study shows that microplastics are found not just in human faeces, but in the bloodstream too, implying far more long-term exposure. While more research is needed to determine the exact effects of plastic in our bloodstream, a recent study on mice and rats suggest that it can cause metabolic disturbance, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity and carcinogenic effects.

Long story short - reducing microplastics is just as vital for our health as it is for the environment. Check out our tips below on how to reduce microplastics, for the benefit of all life on the planet.

Avoid heating plastic

Plastics leach microplastics much more easily when heated. Hot water in dishwashers degrades plastic, releasing microplastics into the water supply.* Likewise, heating food in plastic containers in the microwave releases BPA and phthalates into the food.* When hot beverages are poured into takeaway cups, estrogenic chemicals, and even heavy metals, leak from the HDPE-grade plastic lining.* The same principle applies to teabags. Most teabags are 25% plastic, and those made of paper usually contain polypropylene (plastic) glue. When exposed to hot liquid, up to 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics can transfer from teabag to beverage.* To reduce microplastics in your diet, use reusable containers made of metal, glass or ceramic for hot food and drink. You can shop reusable with LOOP. You can use loose leaf tea or refillable linen tea bags.


Drink filtered tap water

Plastic pollution has been found in tap water all over the world , with the highest contamination rate found in the US, at 94%. While European countries like the UK, France and Germany had lower rates of contamination, this was still 72%. Bottled water has been shown to contain twice the amount of microplastics as tap water! A great solution is to filter tap water and store it in metal, or glass reusable containers. Carbon blocks or distillation filters can remove all microplastics from tap water in the longer term, this is more cost-effective and less pollutant. Plus you can also recycle water filters with the All-in-one Zero Waste Box! 

Use plastic-free cosmetics

Many beauty products, cosmetics and toiletries contain plastics. Some of these aid in absorption, while others create fragrance, and yet more are used to exfoliate. Plastic microbeads were used in many exfoliating products before being banned in the UK in 2018, but many brands still include plastic. Check a product’s ingredient list for signs of plastic. 

The ones to look out for

  • ​​Polyethylene (PE) 
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) 
  • Nylon (PA)
  • Polypropylene (PP) 
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

These rinse-off microplastics have a catastrophic effect on marine life and contribute to a huge amount of the plastic in the ocean. They also represent a considerable threat to human health. Avoid this by opting for plastic-free toiletries.  


Limit your seafood consumption

Going vegan has been said to be the most effective way to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting down on seafood could also significantly reduce your intake of microplastics. Research shows that plastic in the ocean results in nanoplastics moving from the stomachs of fish to their muscle tissue - which is the part that we humans usually eat. And of course, avoiding  nanoplastics doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a healthy, balanced diet!  

Recycle properly

Reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the problem of waste - a zero waste lifestyle will help keep plastics out of landfill, the ocean and the air. After switching from plastic product habits to cardboard or metal product habits and reusing what you already have, prioritise ensuring you recycle plastic waste you might otherwise have thrown away. You can use a fit-for-purpose Zero Waste Box in your home or workplace to recycle a wide range of hard-to-recycle waste, including flexible and rigid plastics commonly found in your kitchen, office and beyond.

The more healthy habits we adopt, the easier it will be to tackle not only the waste problem, but also the risk posed to our health from microplastics. What are your plastic habits? Share you best tips on zero-waste and plastic-free living in the comments.



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1 comment

  • Reduce microplastics from washing by fitting a filter to catch them.


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