There are tiny bits of plastic everywhere, even in the air.
Most of us have probably heard that much of the dust in our homes is made up of dead skin that we shed, but that’s actually a myth. Dust, according to Live Science, is made up of “dander, sand, insect waste, flour (in the kitchen), and of course lots of good, old-fashioned dirt.”
We can add a new ingredient to the dust recipe, and that’s microplastics, small fibers that have broken down from larger plastic objects. While we’ve been worrying about how much plastic marine life ingests because of pollution, we haven’t been paying attention to how much plastic we ingest ourselves.
According to a new study, each time we sit down to eat a meal, more than 100 pieces of microplastic fall onto our plates with the rest of the dust from the air. IFL Science says the study, originally published in Environmental Pollution, was intended to compare the number of plastic fibers found in a mussel to the number eaten in the average household.
Researchers found the average mussel contains less than two plastic fibers. It seems we’re far more likely to ingest microplastics floating around the air than we are to ingest them from the seafood we eat.
The researchers determined the amount of microplastics that fall on our plates by placing petri dishes with sticky dust traps on tables in three homes during meal times. After 20 minutes, as many as 14 pieces of plastic fell into the dishes. When researchers took into account how much larger a dinner plate is than a petri dish, they estimated “114 plastic fibers probably fall on your plate at each meal, totaling between 13,713 and 68,415 each year.” The toll to human health is not completely understood yet, but some plastics contain chemicals that are believed to contribute to health problems like obesity and diabetes.
The findings in this research are sobering, but perhaps they can be used to inspire us to severely cut back on the plastics we consume. A first step could be to follow McDonald’s lead in the U.K. and ditch plastic drinking straws for paper ones, or better yet, try a reusable one.