2019 – time for a reset
January 18, 2019
When the bough breaks…
January 18, 2019

‘Waiter, there’s micro-plastic in my soup!’

Microplastics are smaller than these pieces of plastic.

By Simone Delochan,

Last year I had begun a series on environmental issues and the impact of everyday items: glitter, and balloons being the most memorable based on feedback—both positive and negative.

I want to remind Church communities and schools again, to please refrain from releasing your balloons (rosary and otherwise) for the simple reason that what goes up must come down…and the balloons and string come down entangling wildlife and also leading to fatal ingestion. We cannot afford to ignore repercussions simply because we cannot see them for ourselves.

I had also looked at the topic of microplastics in the issue of January 21, 2018, ‘Ban the beads’, and the fact that fish—which we eat—consume these, and the natural possibility that we too are consuming plastics. Well, this has moved from theory to actuality.

In a small study, the results of which were revealed in October 2018, microplastics were found in the stool samples of eight participants from Austria, Italy, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Paul Schwable, gastroenterologist at the Medical University of Vienna is the researcher who led the study. He says: “This is the first of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal disease” (‘Microplastics found in human stool for the first time’, The Guardian UK. October 22, 2018).

Nine out of ten types of plastics tested for were found in all samples ranging from 50–500 micrometres—your hair, for comparison’s sake, is 100 micrometres.

The effects of plastic consumption are unknown as no study has been done on impacts, which is a little odd considering that most countries/universities have been cognisant (based on several studies already completed and peer reviewed) that microplastics are present not only in the gut of animals we consume, but also our waterways and in the bottled water we drink. The UK has only now launched a study of health impacts.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations on its website stated the following in 2017: “Based on the available scientific evidence, it is safe to state that microplastics neither seem to pose a significant food safety threat and the health benefits associated with the intake of fishery products will exceed the potential risks.”

However, it goes on to cite the lack of toxicological data with regard to plastics which are commonly ingested, possible toxicity of microplastics due to heating, and how microplastics are distributed in the tissues and organs of the human body.

Schwable commented that the particles can enter the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver. The participants, men and women between the ages 33 and 65, had to keep a food diary during the period of the study which showed multiple areas where they could have been exposed to plastic: food wrapped in plastic, drinking from plastic bottles, seafood consumption. Two of them chewed gum every day.

It is quite possible that right now as you read this, you have microplastics in your system with unknown repercussions. Humans have destroyed so much of what was healthy and beautiful on earth it is puzzling that we could not have seen how directly it would have impacted us.

Yet, we continue to unashamedly litter, blithely release balloons, use plastic straws, leave beaches and other natural spots filthy after we have visited. A few have awakened to the absolute necessity of revising the not-convenient-anymore plastic lifestyle and while it will take a long time to reverse the damage done, a new approach has to be adopted.

Reduce the use of plastic.
Increase recycling.
Be responsible for your environment.