With Plastic Free July our non-profit partner of the month, it’s a good time to talk microplastics! You know the buzz word that’s hard to avoid… just like plastic. And microplastics. But I’m here to help break it down, expand your knowledge, and your power to make informed decisions for your health and the planet’s.
Let’s start with a definition. Microplastics are simply very, very small pieces of plastic, less than five millimeters long, to be exact. According to a recent article in Nature, a UK-based marine ecologist coined the term microplastics in 2004 when he and his team found them all over beaches, degraded from plastic litter – water bottles, straws, sandwich bags, etc. As outlined in this really handy overview from National Geographic, they’re also manufactured and used in cosmetics, hygiene products and other heavily marketed items. Those are often what we call microbeads, which you may have come across in your toothpaste or skin care products, promising to erase coffee (or wine!) stains from your teeth and exfoliate dead skin cells. As a woman over 50, I will accept all the help I can get to keep my pearly whites white and my face aglow, but I say a big no thank you to microbeads and other microplastics.
So, what’s the problem with tiny bits of plastic that you can hardly see? The reality is there is still a lot we don’t know, but what we do know is alarming. The bulk of the research is related to oceans, rivers and marine life. What it shows is that microplastics have permeated our waterways and the plants and animals that call them home. Humans also create microplastics just by using plastic products. That same Nature article relates the horror of an environmental engineer when he discovered that heating up food – or even baby formula – in a plastic container can release millions of microplastics. Microplastics also make their way into the air, then travel far and wide. It’s safe to say they are everywhere.
According to the report “Plastic and Health: the Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,” microplastics entering the human body directly, through ingestion or inhalation, can lead to a number of carcinogenic, developmental, or endocrine disrupting health impacts. Not to mention inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and necrosis, which are linked to an array of negative health outcomes including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation, auto-immune conditions, neuro-degenerative diseases, and stroke, oh my!
About Stephanie Bowen: After two successful careers —one in broadcast journalism, another as a communications and PR pro working in global health, development and rights — Stephanie is harnessing her love of story and strategic communications for positive impact with the consultancy practice, SHARE: Stories that Buzz. She is a contributor, sounding board, friend, and customer of What's Good.
1. Plastic and Human Health: A Lifecycle Approach to Plastic Pollution— Center for International Environmental Law; https://www.ciel.org/plasticandhealth/ Keywords: Microplastics, microbeads, plastic, pollution, oceans, marine life, plastic-free, eco-friendly cosmetics, plastic-free cosmetics, plastic-free food storage
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