Humanity has created more than 9 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, when large-scale production of the material first took off. Of that total, a staggering 76 percent has gone to waste. These days, plastics are found in most table salt, marine life and the deepest parts of the ocean. So it any surprise that they have made it into our bodies, too?
Plastic particles were found in all the stool samples of eight participants from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria found. On average, 20 microplastic particles per 10g of stool were detected.
Nine different types of plastic, sized between 50 and 500 micrometers, were identified. Widely used varieties such as polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) plastics were most commonly found.
"This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut," lead researcher Philipp Schwabl commented in a press release. "Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases."
Schwabl also raised concerns that the plastics could work their way into other parts of the human body.
"While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver," he said. "Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health."
The research was presented Monday at the 26th United European Gastroenterology Week in Vienna.
In the pilot study, the participants kept a food diary in the week leading up to their stool sampling. Their entries showed that they were exposed to plastics by consuming foods that were wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles. Six of the participants also ate sea fish and none were vegetarians.
Based on the findings, the researchers estimated that "more than 50 percent of the world population might have microplastics in their stools," though larger-scale studies will be needed to confirm this, The Guardian reported.
It has long been suspected that plastics are making their way into the larger food web, as 8 million tons of the stuff leaches into the oceans every year. Microfibers, which get washed into the sea from our laundry, as well as tiny shards that break off of larger plastics, are often gobbled up by plankton, fish and other sea animals, and ultimately consumed by humans.
"I'd say microplastics in poop are not surprising," Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the effects of microplastics on fish, told National Geographic. "For me, it shows we are eating our waste—mismanagement has come back to us on our dinner plates. And yes, we need to study how it may affect humans."
Governments around the world are waking up to the mounting crisis and have introduced legislation to curb single-use plastic consumption. Some companies are taking steps to reduce their plastic footprint.
Environmental groups are also urging corporations to stop producing so much plastic in the first place.
According to a new study that observed sea, rock and lake salts, 90 percent of the table saltbrands sold around the world contain microplastics. Several years ago, researchers discovered that microplastics were in sea salt, but no one was certain just how extensive the problem was until now.
A year after researchers at a New York university discovered microplastics present in sea salt thanks to widespread plastic pollution, researchers in South Korea set out to find out how pervasive the problem is—and found that 90 percent of salt brands commonly used in homes around the world contain the tiny pieces of plastic.
We are filling up our oceans with trillions of extremely small pieces of plastic, and in the process we are literally killing off entire ecosystems. But because it is a very gradual process, most people aren’t really too alarmed by it. Every single minute, the equivalent of an entire garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our oceans, where it joins all of the plastic that is already there. You see, the plastic that is already in our oceans never goes away. Instead, it just gets turned into smaller and smaller pieces. It is being projected that the total amount of plastic in the oceans of the world will exceed the total weight of all fish fish by the year 2050, and when we get to that point our oceans will probably be permanently beyond the point of recovery. Sea creatures are the very foundation of the global food chain, and once we lose that foundation we will see global famine on a scale that is absolutely unimaginable.
Plastic trash is littering the land and fouling rivers and oceans. But what we can see is only a small fraction of what’s out there. Since modern plastic was first mass-produced, 8 billion tons have been manufactured. And when it’s thrown away, it doesn’t just disappear. Much of it crumbles into small pieces.
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