Microplastics Are A Bigger Food Problem Than We Thought

The Lempert Report
September 23, 2020

It’s estimated that the average person consumes about 5 grams of plastic each week

Charles Moore, credited as the person who discovered what’s now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, back in 1977 was sailing a catamaran from Hawaii to California when he and his crew got stuck in windless waters in the North Pacific Ocean.

He noticed that the ocean was speckled with “odd bits and flakes,” as he describes it in his book, Plastic Ocean. It was plastic: drinking bottles, fishing nets, and countless pieces of broken-down objects.

Moore went back to the same location 2 years later on a science mission and made the startling observation that in addition to all those soda bottles, plastic bags and such that there were also tiny plastic particles: microplastics, defined as anything smaller than 5 millimeters but bigger than 1 micron, which is 1/1000th of a millimeter.

We need to care about these particles as new research shows that they are present in drinking water and edible fruits and vegetables.

A recent study published this year, led by researchers at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, indicates that there’s a lot more microplastic in the ocean than we previously thought. When taking samples from the ocean, most researchers use nets with a mesh size of 333 microns, which is small enough to catch microplastics, but big enough to avoid clogging. The team from Plymouth Marine Laboratory used much finer 100-micron nets to sample the surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the English Channel.

The researchers found there were 2.5 to 10 times more microplastics in their samples compared to samples that used the larger nets.

Drinking water, including tap and bottled water, is the largest source of plastic in our diet, with the average person consuming about 1,769 tiny microplastic particles each week, according to a 2019 report supported by WWF they report other primary sources of microplastics include shellfish, beer and salt.

A new study published this year in Environmental Research found that microplastics were even present in common fruits and vegetables. Apples had one of the highest microplastic counts, with an average of 195,500 plastic particles per gram, while broccoli and carrots averaged more than 100,000 particles per gram.

Through normal water and food consumption, it’s estimated that the average person consumes about 5 grams of plastic each week, equivalent to the size of a credit card, according to WWF.

Imagine just what percentage of our body weight is plastic. Today. Tomorrow. Ten years from now.  Walter Brooke, as Mr. McGuire in the graduate was wrong.