Microplastics are Everywhere

November 28, 2022

Microplastics are Everywhere

The world produces some 320 million tons of plastics every year, of which 40% are for single-time use. From a variety of causes (sunlight, heat, fire, bacterial degradation), plastics are broken down to "microplastics" (MP) which are defined as those particles smaller than 5 mm. That's still pretty big, about the size of your pinky fingernail. Drop down to 1-5% of that size and you get tinier particles, and those are now being reportedly found in virtually every placenta at birth. 

Or go to the Mediterranean and you will find that the majority of the sea floor is composed of microplastic particles. The problem lies in their persistence and their inert nature. They don't act like soils in which plants can grow, or animals find sustenance. They are just there, filling up space. And there are being found everywhere in the human body. Just this spring (2922) reports from the UK and the Netherlands found microplastic particles in surgical lung biopsies and in anonymous blood donors.

Is this ubiquity a problem? Well. We don't know because it has only been studied ever so superficially, but just about everywhere you look there are orange lights flashing. For example, just a year ago a review article looking at animal intestinal studies showed widespread issues including impairments in oxidative and inflammatory balance and disruption of the gut’s epithelial permeability. Not only that, their surfaces are ideal environments to carry and shield pathogens. Almost all plastics also shed various endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates.

The endocrine effects on various hormones have become so markedly problematic that the Endocrine Society has gone so far as to state that plastics carry a threat to our health.

We have been caught in the trap of public relations. The petrochemical/plastic sector of our economy has been even more brilliant than the sugar lobby at diverting attention and blame. Each of us faithfully recycles our plastics every week, believing we are making a difference. In fact, less than 9% of our plastics are actually recycled and the rest is sent to landfills for its uncertain life on this planet. We think we are doing something useful and decreasing our risk. We buy water bottles that don't excrete BPA but are still made of plastic. We get carry-out from our restaurants in plastics. A plastic straw here, and dry cleaning bag there....and we handle plastics all day long....my keyboard on my computer, my steering wheel, my toothbrush, grocery bag, shoe laces, comb, remote control, pan handles. light switches. It goes on and on.

Pick any system of your body and google microplastics and that system. It is now being studied, and in every system, we are finding adverse effects. We have no time to lose. We need to think about how to change this trajectory. The plastics industry is predicting that they will increase production some 30-60% in the next decade.

www.What will Work for me. I need to learn the effects of these pervasive compounds. They appear to be so benign and innocuous, and so useful. The one step that has worked in my home is to get rid of all our plastic food containers and replace them with glass. So far so good. Now, reusing paper bags for groceries or taking canvas bags is my next goal.

References: Environmental International, Global Change Biology, Fiber and Particle Toxicology, Birth Defects Research, Endocrine Society, The Economist, Jr Hazard Material, National Geo,

Pop Quiz

1. What is the definition of microplastics?                   Answer: Pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm - about the size of a soybean or peppercorn.

2. Microplastic particles are likely in your blood. T or F?              Answer: True

3. Name some of the effects of microplastics on your gut.               Answer: Change the mix of bacteria in your colonic biome, reduce the absorption of nutrients, leach out BPA, and change inflammatory responses....

4. The American Endocrine Society said what about microplastics.                   Answer: 5-alarm fire. Our endocrine system is being disrupted significantly

5. What is one thing you can do to reduce your need of plastics?                          Answer: you could be as radical as saying "No single-use plastics for me.". That means no soda bottles, no plastic bags, no straws, no alcohol wipes, and on and on. It's a toughie. But one we likely need to take.