Microplastics are a macro problem


NOT SO PURE Water in plastic bottles contains 22 times more microplastic particles than tap water on average.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

We’re well in to Plastic Free July, the global awareness-raising movement designed to encourage people to take steps to reduce their daily use of plastics, especially single-use items, highlighting the impact on the environment. There’s now compelling evidence to reduce plastic due to the impact on human health.
Recent studies on the prevalence of microplastics in the environment have located them in soil, air, rivers and oceans, as well as on top of mountains in areas around the world. Earlier this month, researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam documented microplastic particles in beef and pork meat, dairy milk and the blood of cows and pigs on farm, as well as in the animal feed.
Research from the same university in March detected microplastics in human blood, occurring in 17 of the 22 people in the study. This follows on from prior studies that identified microplastics in human faeces, lungs and the placentas of pregnant women.
Although scientists have not established the direct impact on human health of the accumulation of microplastics within our bodies, there is concern about the increasing prevalence and how it might affect us over time.  
So what are the key steps to take to decrease your exposure to microplastics on a daily basis?
Ditching bottled water for tap water is a must, as it is estimated that water in plastic bottles contains 22 times more microplastic particles than tap water on average. If you are concerned about filtering, plastic-free options include a binchotan charcoal stick or ceramic beads, both of which can be boiled and left in a water jug or reusable bottle for a certain period of time to absorb impurities and odours.
Other plastic food bags and containers also shed microparticles, so it’s advisable to buy fruit,  vegetables, bread and other food items loose or in glass jars if possible. Summer is the best season to take advantage of locally grown foods by buying from farmers in markets and other local producers. Learning to make loaves of bread (soda, yeasted or sourdough) and other baked goods like wraps, biscuits and cakes can cut out lots of packaging waste, save money and also taste much better.
Nearly all takeaway food containers, including most ‘compostable’ coffee cups, are lined with or made entirely from plastic, from which microparticles leach, especially when hot foods or drinks are placed in them. Avoid these by bringing your own stainless steel, ceramic or glass containers, or choose to sit in (or outside) and use real plates, cutlery and cups.
As there is only so much that we as consumers can do just by making individual decisions, The Voice Ireland, an environmental campaign group, is running a Plastic Free July campaign encouraging people to take a picture of unnecessary and excessive plastic packaging and send it to the brand and the supermarket, along with a letter asking them to reduce or get rid of the plastic. To participate, check out more details on @voiceireland social media accounts, or on voiceireland.org online.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic toods, reusable goods, household products, eco-trendly personal care Items and gifts.