Microplastics now contaminate every corner of the world. They have been found at the north pole and in the deepest depths of the ocean, as well as, in our bodies. Microplastic pollution has recently been detected in human blood and tissue for the first time. From the air we breath, to the water we drink and the food we eat, they are thoroughly unavoidable. So, what can we do to stop this growing problem? We aim to answer that question and more.
Consumer Reports wrote in April 2020 that researchers now think that the average person consumes nearly a credit card's worth of plastic each week. That's pretty alarming in its own right, but once you understand the repercussions that microplastics in general have on our ecosystems and on your health, you too will want to do anything you can to reduce their prevalence. This was also our primary motivation for creating a clothing line made of natural, plant based fabrics. We don't want to contribute to this plastic pollution problem, we want to offer an alternative, so that conscious consumers have a choice. We also hope to educate the public on the growing dangers these microplastics pose.
So, you are probably wondering where do microplastics come from, how do they get into our bodies and what do they do to our health once there?
How do microplastics end up in the environment and our bodies?
Microplastics generally enter the environment from two sources, fashion and single use plastic packaging. Single use packages such as water or shampoo bottles, take away containers, plastic straws and the bag from your last shipment from Amazon are all contributing to the tide of plastic pollution. Microplastics are the small pieces of plastic that fragment off of plastic products when they are thrown away and start to degrade.
Microplastics from clothing are released into the environment every time we do our laundry. They travel from our washing machines, to either local lakes and streams or to wastewater treatment facilities (click here for our blog on Microplastics and Fashion). From there, they enter the world's oceans and our drinking water supply. They also get distributed into the air from our dryers.
Tiny plastic particles enter our bodies not only from water we drink and the air we breath but also from the food we eat. Just like the Earth's ecosystems, these are all linked in one way or another... So, the question is, how exactly can we avoid them?
Water treatment facilities provide both tap water and agricultural use water for growing our food. Unfortunately, they do not currently have the technology to filter out microplastic particles, and that ensures that they are widely distributed throughout the environment. This means that both fresh and processed water sources contain these microplastic particles.
According to a study published in September 2017, 83% of tap water samples tested contained plastic fibers. This results in billions of people drinking plastic polluted water. Bottled water is no better, as most bottled water is sourced from municipal tap water supplies, as is the water used to make our beer, soft drinks, etc. Thus making it virtually certain that we are all ingesting microplastics, no matter what we drink. Tap water in our homes can be filtered, providing the best protection. Lifestraw makes a water bottle for on the go as well as a pitcher for home use.
There are three types of filters that will help remove microplastics from tap water:
- Carbon Blocks faucet filters: The most efficient ones, such as TAPP 2, remove 100% of all known microplastics.
- Reverse Osmosis filters: These can filter down to 0.001 microns, so they will remove all known microplastics, but they are more expensive and require maintenance. *There are also other health concerns with RO.
- Distillation filters: In theory, they deliver pure H2O and also filters 100% of known microplastics.
Farms that grow our fruits and vegetables are using this microplastic filled water to irrigate crops. This adds microplastics to our soil and it ultimately arrives in our ground water. This same process can and does release microplastics into the air.
Microplastics also arrive on farms from processed sewage sludge, often used as fertilizers. One 2016 paper calculated that by doing so, North Americans could be loading their fields with up to 330,000 tons of microplastics each year.
Due to this process, fruits and vegetables uptake and absorb plastics and associated toxic chemicals into their very fiber. Then, when we ingest the produce, we consume these very same plastics and toxins. For best results, grow your own food, or buy organic produce that is not grown with pesticides.
Sludgy microplastics from irrigating farms are not just staying on those fields either. When soils dry out, winds scour the dirt and blow microfibers into the sky and the air, more on that in a minute...
Microplastics in water supplies are also ingested by wildlife, killing some outright. Still, others live with this plastic in their bodies until they get sick and die or are eaten by another animal. When they are part of the food chain, this leads to a phenomenon called "bioaccumulation." Each time an animal eats another animal, they have a bioaccumulation of all the plastic particles and toxins both animals have eaten. This continues and increases at each stage of the food web cycle. This process brings microplastics to our plates. In both the meat of land animals, like cows and chickens, and fresh sea food and canned fish, plus the produce grown commercially and the drinks we buy!
Additionally, new research from National Geographic found microplastics in 90 percent of table salt brands sampled worldwide. Table salt is typically mined from underground deposits, where our ground water resides. Whereas sea salt is produced by evaporating seawater. Both of these sources are highly contaminated with microplastics. It would be best to only use Himalayan Pink salt, as it does not have chemicals, additives or plastics. Redmond Real Salt is also good, as it is an unrefined sea salt that is mined from ancient sea beds in Utah, so it's free of modern pollutants. It's pure, unprocessed, and full of trace minerals too.
Microplastics, Bad For Your Health?
The big question is what is happening in our bodies? According to the Center for International Environmental Law, microplastics that are ingested, eaten or inhaled can lead to a host of health problems.
Microplastic pollution has recently been detected in human blood and tissue for the first time. Scientists found tiny particles in almost 80% of the people tested. These may become lodged in organs, rather than simply passing through the body and being expelled, as was once assumed.
The chemical BPA is one of the main contributing factors to why microplastic can be harmful to your health. BPA found in synthetic clothing is a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor that has been linked with various types cancer.
Detectable levels of BPA have been found in the urine of 93% of all adults tested in the U.S. This level of accumulation causes adverse health effects including (but not limited to) breast and prostrate cancer, metabolism changes and obesity, developmental and neurobehavioral problems, as well as infertility and reproductive abnormalities.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about BPA because it is a systemic toxicant that has been found in mother's breast milk and infant urine samples. Microplastics were even found to be evident in the placentas of pregnant women.
Microplastics also pose additional issues beyond the plastics themselves. Plastics are not made for human consumption, so they are not tested for toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other things that are bad for our health, but the fact is, we are ingesting them. They have also found that human pathogens bind to plastic surfaces stronger than they do natural surfaces, making plastics an ideal carrier for pathogens. For example, they have found Vibrio on microplastics in the ocean, which causes Cholera in humans.
It has also been found that microplastics interfere with stem cells and leads to 1 in 4 chickens being born with abnormally small eyes. Microplastics also lead to behavioral changes in fish, and, in a surprising study, not only did fish exposed to microplastics reproduce less, but their offspring (who were not directly exposed to plastic particles) also had fewer young. This suggests that the effects can linger into subsequent generations. If they can do these sorts of things to other animals, what do you think they can and are doing to us? The implications for the effects on humans are nothing less than startling.
For more on plastics an health, check out the Plastic Health Coalition. They are doing research to find out how plastics impact four main areas of health- the digestive system, the lungs, the immune system, and the spread of micro-and nanoplastics to other parts of the human body.
Final Thoughts, What Can You Do About Microplastics?
By now, you're probably wondering, "What can I do about microplastics?" The best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and the environment, is by limiting the plastic you put into the world and into your body. We want to help you with real world tips that are applicable to your own life, so you feel empowered to make changes that will make a difference.
First, refuse all single use plastic packaging. Say no to the straw, bring your own re-usable bags to the store, get take away in your own containers. Refuse, reuse, reduce, repair and repurpose, in that order. Recycling should be the last resort. This will greatly impact the amount of trash in the landfills, or that gets burned, reducing plastic pollution in the water, air and soil.
One of the next best steps you take is to invest in a washing bag that catches some of the fibers form your laundry before they enter the waterways. You can hang dry your laundry rather than use a dryer. You can also install a microplastic filter to your dryer, to catch the fibers before they get released into the air and when you do wash your clothing, wash it using the cold setting. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, this causes less microfiber shedding than hot water.
As much as microplastic filters are great, the best way to help fight the problem of microplastics is by voting with your dollars. First and foremost, avoid synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and traditional activewear. Buy only toxic-free, natural, plant based clothing. Support companies that use natural and plant based fabrics such as tree pulp, cotton, hemp, linen or Lyocell (more on this soon). Our new lines coming out this year (2023) will be made of tree pulp and Lyocell, stay tuned for all these exciting new developments!
You can also flex your purchasing power by choosing to buy from brands that are dedicated to sustainability, such as shipping orders in plastic free packaging or giving back to the Earth by planting trees that offset climate change. We here at Lotus Tribe Clothing employ all of these practices and are proud of our eco commitment. When you shop with us, you can rest assured that your purchase supports these kinds of programs. Look good, feel good, do good.
Please use our Blog Library as a source of information, as well links to studies, products, brands and services that will enhance your life. Wishing you all health and happiness. If you know about something we have left out, please let us know and we will share it with our tribe.
*This blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.