Are You Eating Plastic?

eating plastic

Here’s an unconventional question for you: Are you eating plastic? Most of us would outright say “no, of course not!” but are you so sure? I’m not. You see, while you might not be putting a fresh piece of plastic on your plate, it might be contaminating your food. 

I’ll explain: Lets assume a rubber duck is lost to the ocean. Over time, that rubber duck is broken down by the elements into microscopic parts. It does not rot or degrade completely, because it’s not organic matter. These tiny parts have absorbed high concentrated levels of agricultural and industrial toxins over time. But worse yet, many animals mistake the plastic for food, and wind up eating it. This causes them to die a slow and painful death. In fact, every year more than 100,000 marine mammals die from plastic build up in their intestines. If you think that’s bad, approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic every year. Other marine creatures who’s cells have accumulated the toxins of plastic end up on our plate. 

Are You Eating Plastic?

Now you might be saying “but I don’t eat fish”, “I’m a vegetarian” or, “I’m vegan, that doesn’t affect me.” I wish I could say it was that simple, but it’s not. That’s because most plastic in the U.S. is made from natural gas. The extraction process releases a slew of air contaminants, which indirectly end up in our food supply. After all, whatever goes up, must come down, and these contaminants eventually find their way onto the earth (and also in the water). Water, which is used to drink, eat, and water crops with, mind you. And water that land animals drink. In other words, no part of the earth is unaffected by the pollution caused by plastic. And just because it’s microscopic, does not mean it’s not there. 


Are You Eating Plastic for Dinner?

This video was featured on National Geographic and can provide you with even more information on plastic waste. It’s 3-D animated and dives into how our consumption of plastics has affected both marine life and human life. Believe me when I say we truly are affecting our own health when we invite plastic into our lives! The film was produced by motion graphic artist Andreas Tanner and is only 4 minutes and 39 seconds long. Give it a watch.

If for some reason you cannot watch it, know this: Food isn’t the only thing that has plastic in it. Microplastics are actually added to certain products, like toothpaste and shower gel. To me, toothpaste is worse because you literally put that right in your mouth. One tube of toothpaste can contain up to 10 percent of microplastics. Think about that before you brush your teeth. Personally, I make my own toothpaste, and I highly recommend you do the same. But I hope you’re starting to see all the ways we are silently, and obliviously, ingesting plastic.


Why is plastic harmful?

Plastic harms both the environment and the human body. The irony of that statement is that we created it. If you’re still not convinced plastic is a problem, or think you haven’t been affected by it, I advise you to reconsider. According to a new study published on July 19, 2017, humans have made more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic, most of which has been discarded (not recycled). Let that number sink in. Can you even fathom how much that is? It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around it.

Here’s an info-graph that might help:

eating plastic
Credit: Janet A Beckley

According to this, 8.3 billion tons looks a lot like 1 billion elephants. That’s insane. And to make matters worse, its only going to get worse. It’s estimated that by 2050, 34 billion tons of plastic will be made. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that, because that would mean there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish

Aside from their sheer volume, what other ways does plastic harm us and the environment? Here’s just a few:

  • Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. Pleasant, right?
  • There are thousands of landfills in the United States. Buried beneath each one of them, toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, flowing downstream into lakes and rivers.
  • Chemicals in plastic which give them their rigidity or flexibility (flame retardants, bisphenols, phthalates and other harmful chemicals) are oily poisons that repel water and stick to petroleum-based objects like plastic debris. So, the toxic chemicals that leach out of plastics can accumulate on other plastics. This is a serious concern with increasing amounts of plastic debris accumulating in the world’s oceans.
  • Wildlife become entangled in plastic, they eat it or mistake it for food and feed it to their young, and it is found littered in even extremely remote areas of the Earth. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.
  • More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been made since its initial creation. Only 9 percent of plastic actually gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, is burned or becomes litter.

How you can fight plastic waste

So, now that you know you’re probably ingesting plastic in some form, some way, what’s the solution? What can you do to fight it? Well, there are options. It’s not a lost cause (yet), but you do need to be proactive about it. Here are four ways you can fight plastic waste and reduce your risk of ingesting plastic.

  1. Stop buying items packaged in plastic. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many things actually are packaged in plastic. Consider learning more about the zero waste movement and educating yourself on how to cut back on single-use plastics the most. Some single-use plastics you should completely eliminate are: Plastic water bottles, cutlery, cups, straws, bags, etc. Replace them with reusable items instead! 
  2. Make your own toothpaste. This will help you avoid any gross microplastics that may be lurking in your toothpaste. Plus, lets face it, most toothpaste is packaged in (you guessed it) plastic. Here’s a DIY toothpaste recipe I recommend.
  3. Learn how to recycle plastic. Since only 8 percent of plastic is recycled, it’s clear to me most people don’t know what they’re doing. Every state has different rules and regulations on what’s recyclable, so you cannot just throw something in the recycling bin and hope for the best. Here’s what you can and cannot recycle in NYC. If you don’t live in NYC, try googling your state’s recycling laws. In general, this is a great guide to plastics and how to tell which are easiest to recycle.
  4. Shop at the farmers market and bulk bin stores. This will dramatically reduce your plastic waste. Just don’t forget to bring reusable bags, produce bags, and glass jars! If you’re not familiar with bulk food shopping, or shopping without plastic, here’s a good guide.

Are You Eating Plastic?

Lets stop eating plastic. What are some tips you have to share? 

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.


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