If we are what we eat, no wonder some of us are plastics

Lifestyle

If we are what we eat, no wonder some of us are plastics

While the health effects of eating third-hand plastics are still unknown, future studies will soon tell us

Sanet Oberholzer


Everywhere you turn, new metal straws are being sold: at markets, quirky shops, even online. The words “stop sucking” have taken on different meanings, but the greenest of them is to vow off using straws.
If the hype around plastic straws seems to be over the top, chew on this for a moment: some of the most remote regions of earth have exhibited signs of plastic pollution, from the Galápagos Islands to the deepest oceans.
In a study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers found large amounts of plastic waste in the French Pyrenees. The researchers analysed samples taken over five months in a remote area (the nearest village was 6km away, the nearest town 25km, and the nearest city 120km) and found that, on average, 365 plastic particles, films and fibres were deposited per day.
The study was the first to find that microplastics can travel by air and pollute areas as far as 100km away.
In the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, scientists found that all of the organisms had consumed plastic and some exhibited signs of plastic pollution.
In research published in the peer-reviewed journal Royal Society Open Science earlier this year, a team headed by Dr Alan Jamieson found that over 72% of amphipods – scavenger relatives of crabs and shrimp – contained at least one micro-particle of plastic. Some of the organisms had ingested as many as eight particles.
These weren’t just any kind of plastic: they are human-made pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls that have been banned for decades but have a very long shelf life in nature.
While amphipods will eat just about anything, shrimp and fish eat amphipods. When fish die, the amphipods eat them and so the cycle continues. It isn’t difficult to reach the conclusion that humans eat these very same shrimp and fish.
Perhaps the plastic straws we discard without a second thought aren’t the source of the problem in these specific instances, but the problem does speak to the bigger issue of plastic pollution. Humans and animals consume plastic particles through our food and water. While the health effects are still unknown, future studies will soon tell us.

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