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ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION

New study warns that man ingests 5 grams of plastic every week

The specific effects of microplastics ingestion on human health are not yet fully understood

In Summary

•Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined

•Kenya has banned the use, manufacture and sale of environmentally harmful plastics

plastic bottles that have been disposed in a trailer
plastic bottles that have been disposed in a trailer
Image: EZEKIEL AMINGÁ

An average person ingests about five grams of plastic every week, a new study by the University of Newcastle, Australia, shows.

"Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, a third of which is leaked into nature, "the report released on Wednesday says.

The No Plastic in Nature: Assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people study was commissioned by World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). It highlights the key ways plastic gets into the body, and what can be done.

 

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most experienced independent conservation organisations, with over 5 million supporters.

The study warns that the consumption of common food and beverages may result in weekly ingestion of approximately five grams of plastic, depending on consumption habits.

Out of a total of 52 studies that the University of Newcastle included within its calculations, 33 looked at plastic consumption through food and beverage.

These studies highlighted a list of common food and beverages containing microplastics. The items include drinking water, beer, shellfish, and salt. 

The specific effects of microplastics ingestion on human health are not yet fully understood, but scientists suspect that the health hazard may be more important than is understood.

Beyond a certain exposure level, for instance, inhalation of plastic fibres seems to produce mild inflammation of the respiratory tract.

In marine animals, higher concentrations of microplastics in their digestive and respiratory system can lead to early death.

 

Identified health risks are due to production process residues, additives, dyes and pigments found in plastic, some of which have been shown to have an influence on sexual function, fertility and increased the occurrence of mutations and cancers.

Kenya banned the use, manufacture and sale of environmentally harmful plastics, polythene bags and packaging materials two years ago.

Recently, it banned single-use plastics on beaches, national parks, forests and conservation areas from June 5, 2020.

Airborne microplastics may also carry pollutants from the surrounding environment.

In urban environments, they may carry PAHs – molecules found in coal and tar − and metals.

A key challenge to research is the overwhelming presence of plastic, making it hard to isolate the effect of a specific exposure pathway from other possible causes of exposure.

WHO is reviewing the health impact of microplastics.

The production of virgin plastic has increased 200-fold since 1950 and has grown at a rate of 4 per cent a year since 2000. 

If all predicted plastic production capacity is reached, current production could increase by 40 per cent by 2030.

As of today, a third of plastic waste ends up in nature, accounting for 100 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2016.

Plastic is used as a disposable material, to such an extent that over 75 per cent of all plastic ever produced is waste.

A significant portion of this waste is mismanaged. About 87 per cent of this is leaked into nature and becomes plastic pollution.

Plastic pollution affects the natural environment of most species on the planet. Wildlife entanglement has been recorded in over 270 different species, including mammals, reptiles, birds and fish.

Animals also ingest large quantities of plastic and are unable to pass the plastic through their digestive systems, resulting in internal abrasions, digestive blockages, and death.

Further, toxins from ingested plastic harm breeding and impair immune systems.

Microplastics pollution alters soil conditions, which can impact the health of fauna and increase the likelihood of harmful chemicals leaching into the soil.

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