Water/Wastewater

Is There Plastic in Food?

Apr 19 2018 Read 694 Times

If you ordered a slap-up meal in a restaurant, you’d be highly disappointed to find pieces of plastic in the dish when it arrived. However, a new study shows that that may be exactly what is happening every time you consume a meal, either at home or when eating out – albeit on a more microscopic scale.

Conducted by scientists from Edinburgh and published in the journal Environmental Pollution, the study set out to find out how the concentrations of microplastics in seafood compared to that found in an ordinary household meal. The results were surprising and concerning, to say the least.

100 pieces of plastic

In conducting their microplastics research, the researchers placed petri dishes kitted out with dust collecting traps beside dinner plates at three different Scottish homes. They found that over a 20-minute meal, the petri dishes had collected as many as 14 individual pieces of plastic.

When the larger size of a dinner plate (compared to a petri dish) was taken into account, the team estimated that approximately 114 pieces of plastic accumulate on the average dinner plate at every meal. Over the course of a year, that could add up to as many as 70,000 pieces of microplastic finding their way into the human body.

Seafood plastic content negligible

By contrast, the amount of plastic found in the seafood was negligible. Using caged mussels from an urbanised estuary of Edinburgh, the team found that each mussel contained a mere two microplastics. Those who regularly eat seafood can expect to ingest just over 100 pieces of plastic every year from that source – which pales in comparison to the amount found in household particles.

“These results may be surprising to some people who may expect the plastic fibres in seafood to be higher than those in household dust,” explained Dr Ted Henry, lead author on the project. “We do not know where these fibres come from, but it is likely to be inside the home and the wider environment.”

A global problem

The startling amount of microplastics found in the ambient atmosphere of an average household is concerning news for those already worried about the increasing number of contaminants in our rivers and oceans. Although their exact source is not known, it’s thought they may come from sources as diverse as clothing and upholstery to car tyres and plastic bags.

The effects of plastic on the human body are still largely unknown, though certain forms of the substance (such as diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)) may be carcinogenic. As such, microplastic pollution is everyone's problem and requires a concerted effort to cut down on our consumption of this long-lasting and potentially damaging project, as well as increased recycling as much as we can whenever we can.

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