Scientists at the University of Newcastle, Australia, have discovered that microplastics are released just by the action of opening a plastic bottle. These findings are significant, given the potential for microplastics to harm the environment as their debated role in human health.
Microplastics Pose a Threat to The Environment and Potentially Human Health
Microplastics pose a significant threat to the health of our marine ecosystems. In the form of tiny fibers, microbeads, and tiny plastic fragments, microplastics have entered the marine environment and studies have shown that they are present in 114 aquatic species, over half of which are consumed by humans.
Measuring between 0.001 and 5 millimeters, microplastics are small enough to infiltrate ecosystems, harming life by entering the food chain. They are produced deliberately as microplastics for various products, or, they are indirectly created as larger plastic products break down. For a long time, scientists have warned of the detrimental effects they have on the environment, particularly on aquatic species.
In addition to the damage microplastics do to the environment and wildlife, there is raising concern as to what impact they may be having on human health. While the debate continues as to how much of a threat these particles pose, a number of studies have demonstrated that particles of nano-sized proportions, regardless of if they are plastic or not, have the impact of activating an immune response. Currently, more research is needed to elucidate the full impact of microplastics on the human body, although, many scientists have linked them to many diseases including cancer.
Plastic is used by all industries, and it enters our daily lives via multiple routes. Everywhere plastic is, microplastics might also be present. A new study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports investigated how everyday plastic objects might be responsible for exposing us to microplastics.
Opening Packaging and Bottles Releases Microplastics
The team at the University of Newcastle explored how doing everyday tasks, such as opening plastic bottles and tearing or cutting open plastic bags or packaging, could introduce microplastics into the environment.
Scales that are sensitive to weights as little as just one nanogram were used by the team to collect any microplastics that landed on their surface as a result of these activities, allowing them to be accurately measured.
The researchers measured 10 and 30 nanograms of microplastic being released from opening any of the plastic items. This equates to roughly 14,000-75,000 individual microplastic particles, although, the true number is likely to be higher as the static charge of microplastics causes them to cling to the air.
The team then studied the microplastics under a microscope where the varying size and shape of the fragments and fibers were uncovered. In addition, spectroscopy was also used to determine the chemical composition of the microplastics, finding them to be mainly polyethylene, a commonly used plastic in a number of commercial products.
The Need to Reduce Plastic Use
The findings highlight the need to reduce our use of plastics to protect ourselves and the environment from exposure to microplastics.
The evidence supports the growing body of literature that is revealing not only the danger of microplastics but the fact that they are all around us, released into the air by everyday activities. This study emphasizes the need to cut back on using plastics where other alternative materials can be used instead. In doing so, we will significantly reduce our exposure to microplastics, which are harming the environment and may also be having a detrimental impact on our health.
Further studies are needed to confirm how microplastics affect the body, which would help to initiate action to tackle the unnecessary use of plastic.