Invisible plastics: Is your health at risk?

close up photo of plastic bottles

Here’s a fact you probably did not know: each year, the average American consumes a credit card’s worth of microplastics every year. In fact, some research has shown that we may ingest greater than 100,000 microplastic particles every day.

What are microplastics? How are we exposed?

Microplastics are toxic chemicals invisible to the naked eye.

Exposure can come from a variety of sources, including ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact. Microplastics can appear in our food, water, and air. Additionally, these particles can be found in everyday products, like synthetic clothing, tea bags, laundry/dishwasher pods, paper cups, facial cleansers, cosmetics, and even in some medicines. Some of the plastics ingested are composed of toxins, such as pigments, flame retardants, water repellents, and phthalates. Moreover, particles spread through the air may be composed of dust, synthetic fibers, and industrial/traffic emissions.

What is the harm?

The full extent of the health impact is unknown because there are many factors at play, including the length of time the particles are within our bodies, amount and frequency of exposure, type of exposure, predisposing genetic factors, and more. However, microplastics have been found to potentially impact brain development and/or cause neurotoxicity, metabolic disturbances, and increased cancer risk. In addition, they may also double as endocrine disruptors impacting hormone function and (potentially) causing weight gain.

In the context of brain health, exposure to microplastics during periods of brain development can have a significant impact on learning ability, memory, and behavior throughout the lifespan.

What can we do to reduce risk?

Unfortunately, once these plastic particles are emitted into the air or food or water supplies, they are essentially impossible to get rid of. As a result, reducing plastic pollution now can make a huge impact in the future. However, this method is not easy and requires support from everyone. Another more attainable method includes educating yourself on what to look for when purchasing food or storage containers, avoiding storing food or water in plastic containers, refraining from microwaving food in plastic containers.

Here are 2 great tips to remember:

When purchasing an item contained in a plastic container, on the bottom there will be a number inside a triangle. Refer to code below.

1: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

2: High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

3: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

4: Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

5: Polypropylene (PP)

6: Polystyrene (PS)

7: Other (PC)

Although the numbers listed above are related to recycling, they also offer us great insight as consumers. Numbers 2,4 and 5 are the safest among the 7 plastic labels. Numbers 3 and 6 should always be avoided, while 1 and 7 should be avoided or used with caution.

In the cosmetic industry, the ingredients list will include the names of plastics contained. Refer to the names of 22 plastic chemicals to watch out for below in your cosmetic products.

  1. Polymer
  2. Nylon-12 (polyamide-12)
  3. Nylon-6
  4. Poly(butylene terephthalate
  5. Poly(ethylene isoterephthalate
  6. Poly(ethylene terephthalate)
  7. Poly(methyl methacrylate) 
  8. Poly(pentaerythrityl terephthalate)
  9. Poly(propylene terephthalate) 
  10. Polyethylene
  11. Polypropylene
  12. Polystyrene
  13. Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon)
  14. Polyurethane
  15. Polyacrylate
  16. Acrylates copolymer
  17. Allyl stearate/vinyl acetate copolymers 
  18. Ethylene/methacrylate copolymer
  19. Ethylene/acrylate copolymer
  20. Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer
  21. Styrene acrylates copolymer
  22. Trimethylsiloxysilicate (silicone resin)

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068600/

https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-do-Microplastics-Affect-Our-Health.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/am-i-right/202110/microplastics-what-you-dont-see-may-be-harmful

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/08/microplastics-damage-human-cells-study-plastic#:~:text=Microplastics%20cause%20damage%20to%20human%20cells%20in%20the%20laboratory%20at,levels%20relevant%20to%20human%20exposure.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969720374039

https://yesstraws.com/blogs/news/types-of-plastic-plastic-numbers-guide

https://www.gloworganic.co.uk/blogs/green-beauty-world/how-to-avoid-plastics-in-your-cosmetics

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