Breathing in Microplastic: The Newest Form of Air Pollution Destroying Our Lungs
We’re at a point now where plastic is so persistent in our environment, that now it’s ending up in our bodies. A recent study conducted by the Environment Agency Austria figures that over half of the world population may harbor microplastics in their stools.
While we can take measures to reduce the amount of microplastic we consume (whether that’s avoiding shellfish or sourcing our salt from companies who test their products for plastic), breathing in microplastic is a whole other ball game. We can’t necessarily prevent ourselves from breathing in plastic if it’s in the very air we’re surrounded by day in, day out.
It wouldn’t be such a major concern if microplastic was harmless – but it’s the very opposite. Breathing in microplastics may negatively impact the immune system, digestive system, cardiovascular system, and of course, the respiratory system.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastic is a type of plastic debris that is less than five millimeters in length (about the size of a sesame seed or smaller). They are categorized by their source: primary and secondary.
Primary microplastics are purposefully made to be that size (like the tiny plastic beads found in toothpaste and facial scrubs), while secondary microplastics are bits of plastic that break down from larger pieces (like the plastic that breaks down in plastic water jugs or bottles) (1).
Thousands of personal care products sold across the world contain microplastics. While the cosmetic industry calls them microbeads, they’re essentially the same thing. These tiny beads are processed in products like shampoo and scrubs. But even products that don’t contain microbeads might still contain plastic. Anything from sunburn lotions to moisturizers and make-up can all contain microplastics.
Once microplastics enter the environment, they do not decompose. Instead, they accumulate (particularly in our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams) and are then consumed by wildlife and people.
According to a scientific review published in 2018, plastic production has increased by 8.7 percent annually, since 1960. The industry of plastic production rings in around $600 billion to this day (so you can see why simply getting rid of plastic will take some work). It is estimated that over eight million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, with around 5.25 trillion plastic particles currently circulating the oceans surface.
Breathing in Microplastic
Research shows that much of the microplastics in our bodies come from the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors.
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