Wednesday 30 March 2022

Beware of Hidden Plastics

The Hidden Danger of Plastics

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

All around us are plastics, we cannot fail to notice. But what we can’t see are tiny little microplastics which make their way into our food chain, water & even the air we breathe.

Even makeup and face washes contained micro beads which have been banned thankfully. Micro fibres during a clothes wash can also be a huge unseen problem. 

Below I have listed some of the sources of hidden plastics, some which may surprise you such as in tap water & car tyres. It does make for stark reading. 

It was watching hard hitting documentaries that triggered me to start this blog, so seeing the hard truths can help trigger positive change. 

I hope some of the items listed below will give you food for thought..

Sources of Hidden (Micro) Plastics.

Drinks – a study by Dr. Noam van der Hal found that cows milk contained 10 to 200 particles of microplastics per sample. When he went to the dairy & sampled the milk, he found far less particles within the dairy collection tank. Dr. Noam concluded that the bottling process itself leaches plastics into the product.

Another study looked at contamination of soft drinks, cold tea & energy drinks - it was found that microplastics were detected in 48 out of 57 samples. 

Tea Bags – folks didn’t realise that tea bags contained plastics until a gardener noted that tea bags in his compost heap refused to break down fully. This is caused by polypropylene being used to seal the bags, keeping in the tea without them coming apart during a hot dunking.

Following subsequent news reports, consumers began to put pressure on tea bag companies to change their products to become more eco friendly. I wrote an article on these hidden plastics in tea back in 2019.

Some companies have improved their products since my article above - maybe check out the website of your fave tea company, to check on how they’re doing to emit plastics from their products.

Tap Water – A study reported that 83% of tap water samples from major cities around the world contained plastic fibres. In the UK, 72% of samples were found to have micro fibres, whereas in the US, numbers were much higher at 94%.

Bottled Water - Research from State University of New York examined 250 bottles from nine worldwide countries & found plastics hiding ‘in bottle after bottle and brand after brand’. There were typically 10 plastic particles found, per litre of bottled water.

Bottled Water by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Chewing Gum – In ancient times the chewing gum was plant based, usually from sap, tree resins & bark that Native Americans, Early Europeans & Mayans/Aztecs used to chew on as a breath freshener.

Modern day chewing gums may contain plastics in their gum base as well as polyisobutylene, a type of rubber found in inner car tyres. This is why you see wads of gum sticking (quite literally!) around for years & years.

There are biodegradable alternatives available, see the link below for some ideas.

Glitter – glitter can often contain plastic but some may not be aware. I found this article quite useful to learn a little more.

Toiletries – Microbeads (small insoluble particles) have been used as exfoliators in cosmetics & toiletries. These are solid plastic particles less than 5mm. It was realised that these microbeads can run off into oceans & be ingested by fish & sea mammals causing potential harm to the environment & wildlife.

Cosmetics Europe recommended that by 2020 all products containing microbeads should be phased out. Many companies have been switching to alternatives such as tapioca, seaweed, silica & corn.

In 2018, the UK government placed a ban on products containing microbeads being sold in stores. These included toothpastes, shower gels, face scrubs & soaps.

The government website stated that 'just one shower alone was thought to send 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean, causing serious harm to marine life.'

Sadly there will be many beads out in the environment already swirling around in the seas & waterways, but at least action has been taken to prevent more being produced in the UK.

Clothes – fabrics can often be made up of polyester or acrylic. Washing of clothes releases thousands of microfibers into the waterways. These may not be picked up during filtration leading to contamination of tap water or be leached out into rivers & streams.

Prof Richard Thompson at Plymouth University found that on average, a 6kg wash load could release 140,000 fibres from a polyester-cotton mix or more than 700,000 fibres from acrylic. Dryers can also carry fibres into the air creating a source of airborne microplastic pollution.

White Jeep Photo by TimCompound on Pexels

Tyres – A report commissioned by Friends of the Earth found that vehicle tyres are the biggest cause of microplastic pollution in rivers, lakes & oceans in the UK. 

A recent study in Norway found that the average car tyre loses 4kg in its lifetime

Tyres contain about 20% natural rubber with the rest being made of synthetic materials containing plastic polymers. 

Another worrying ingredient is the use of carbon black - sourced from fossil fuels, it is used to blacken the tyres for resistence to UV light but is also reported to be non biodegradeable & possibly carcinogenic.

Fragments of plastic & synthetic rubber from tyres & brake pads can be kicked out onto the roads. Due to their tiny size they are easily picked up & carried by wind into streams, drains & rivers. The Norway study found particles can remain airborne for a whole month.

Nurdles – so what are nurdles I hear you ask! These are tiny plastic pellets that are often melted to make larger items. They are in effect the primary source of virgin plastic & transported by cargo to foreign countries still in its small pellet form.

Cargo spillages during bad storms can cause nurdles to be dumped out into the oceans. Due to their small size & light weight, they can often drift on top of the current & be carried out by tides to large expanses at sea, even as far as the arctic circle.

Fish & sea birds mistake them as food as they are similar in size to fish eggs. An accumulation of the microplastics can lodge in their guts, causing blockages & malnutrition.

Spillages can also occur during transfer by trucks to factories which can cause run off into drains & rivers, so the problem can be very widespread indeed.

This charity is looking for nurdle hunters to identify the full extent of the problem. Check out the site above for more information & if you can help, why not join the search for nurdles at your local beach.

Kid raking beach by tatiana-syrikova from Pexels

Rainwater – Researchers studied rainwater & air samples in 11 protected areas in the Western USA over 14 months - they found that over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic fragments fell into these areas each year. 
This is the equivalent to over 120 million plastic water bottles (or 8 blue whales in weight). 
North PoleNanoplastics (smaller than a micrometre) have now been found as far away as the North & South poles. A chart about half way down this page shows they are so small they may even cross the blood-brain barrier.

Meanwhile, the top of Everest has been found to harbour microplastics – analysts found samples rife with thin, curly fibres of microplastic. Humans have quite literally left their mark in all sorts of places.

And who can forget the images of polar bears scavenging for food covered in plastic bags? Researchers in Alaska found a shocking 25% of polar bears had plastics lodged in their stomachs. 

Human Beings – A small study of 22 healthy volunteers in the Netherlands found traces of plastics in 17 of the blood samples taken. 

The most common plastic was polyethylene terephthalate (PET) usually found in drink bottles & fabrics, whilst the second most common was polystyrene used in takeaway food containers such as Styrofoam. The third was polyethylene used in paints, plastic wrap, sandwich bags & detergent bottles.

Here is another article on plastics affecting the human body – this is not meant to depress us, but is meant to open all our eyes to the problem we are all facing!
Did you know that humans have produced 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic since the 50s (equal in size to 1 billion elephants)? 

It’s hardly surprising that humans are ingesting & breathing in microplastics, but it is a concern that blood samples also contain plastic too. A stark reminder of how much damage we have done to ourselves & our planet.

Fragile Ice Globe by Pixabay from Pexels

We are resourceful beings & we need to come together to find solutions & act quickly – this planet is far too beautiful to waste.

Thank you for reading! 🌍

Check out our Positive News Stories to pick up the mood..