We consume plastic every day. And that quantity is growing as each day we let our planet get inundated in a plastic tide. The thick bed of plastic floating on the sea; the beasts and birds choking to death on plastic; it all used to be a part of the dining table conversation. And then suddenly we find that it is a part of our diet. We are surrounded by plastic and almost all of the food that the modern man consumes is either packed in plastic or has plastic mixed in it, in some form of the other.
Already, the quantity is alarming. WWF, the global environment charity has put the quantity at 5 grams, the weight of a credit card. The alarming news focuses on the extent to which this pollution has spread.
The study initiated by the University of Newcastle, Australia, concluded that the average person is consuming more than 2000 bits of plastic less than 1 mm every week, which adds up to 250 grams a year. Almost 90% of that comes from drinking water, both tap and bottled.
Seafood is the worst affected segment where direct consumption of plastic is the norm. Shellfish lovers eat up to 11,000 fragments of plastic in their seafood every year. Even if we absorb 1% of all that enters our body, it still is quite a significant quantity. A third of the fish caught off the UK had plastic in it.
The plastic serving at the dinner table starts with the ubiquitous salt pot. It is usually made of plastic and now it contains some too. And so does your beer. European tap water has a generous share of plastic with every litre containing at least 4 plastic fibres.
Increased awareness of the presence of microplastics and the harm it causes has also thrown up this alarming statistic; an accurate calculation of the amount of plastic that we ingest.
Plastic has littered the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth; it is there at its highest point up there on Mt. Everest. it has been found in Arctic sea ice and littered on the peaks of the remote French Pyrenees.
But what has alarmed people the most is the realization that they are ingesting it too. And there is no way they can avoid it.
The study of the effects of ingesting plastic is still in its nascent stages. The long term effects are unknown. Respiratory distress caused by inhalation of plastic fibers and inflammation of respiratory tracts is known. Some chemicals like bisphenol-A(BPA) and phthalates are potential carcinogens. Reproductive malformations and developmental disorders can also occur.
The convenience of plastic in our lives is slowly being superseded by the nuisance of plastic, especially when we are being forced to ingest them. No nation is immune to the problem, so no section of the social strata is above the nuisance. The steps taken so far have been perfunctory at best. Banning the use of plastic bags or restricting the use of straw is okay for the media. But unless a total control of the production of plastic is initiated at a global level as in the case of green gases, let’s continue to have plastic as a side dish and perhaps as a main course in a few decades.
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.
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