- The New Paper
The next time you sit down for a meal, you might want to think twice about ordering a seafood dish or having another round of beer.
Findings from a recent study published on Tuesday (June 11) – conducted by the University of Newcastle, Australia, and commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – have uncovered that on average, an individual could be consuming approximately five grams of microplastic every week – equivalent to the weight of a credit card.
WWF said that based on the findings, microplastics are already contaminating the air, food and water consumed by humans and that the largest source of plastic ingestion around the world is through water – both bottled and tap.
An examination of staples and consumables also revealed that the highest recorded plastic levels were found in shellfish, beer and salt, the organisation said.
The scariest part? The organisation warned that the amounts of microplastics could be underestimated, since other staple foods and ingredients including milk, rice, wheat, corn, bread, pasta and oils are “yet to be studied”.
The University of Newcastle also said that adding other possible direct ingestion sources such as cutlery, toothpaste, toothbrushes and food packaging would “only add to the amount consumed”.
Impact of microplastics on humans “not fully understood”
Microplastics – plastic particles that do not exceed five millimetres in size – can potentially pose a direct or indirect threat to humans via ingestion or by acting as “stressors” or carriers of contaminants, the university said.
It added that mismanagement of microplastics may cause the material to accumulate and/or be transferred through the food chain, ending up in our digestive system and bloodstream.
However, according to WWF, the impacts of microplastic ingestion on human health are not fully understood.
According to the University of Newcastle, the amount of microplastics ingested by an individual still varies depending on a combination of parameters that include the characteristics of the microplastics, the person’s age and size, geographical location and its demographics, nature of development as well as lifestyle options.
“Inadequate” global response by governments
WWF’s international director general, Marco Lambertini, said: “These findings must serve as a wake-up call to governments. If we don’t want plastic in our bodies, we need to stop the millions of tonnes of plastic that continue leaking into nature every year.”
“In order to tackle the plastic crisis, we need urgent action at the government, business and consumer levels, and a global treaty with global targets to address plastic pollution,” he added.
Nonetheless, global response by governments to the invasion of plastic into the environment and food chain remains “inadequate”, WWF said, emphasising the need for them to “play a key role in transforming the global plastic system”.
The organisation noted that measures such as setting quantifiable national targets for plastic reduction and waste management, legislation to hold businesses accountable for plastic production, and support for research on the issue could be implemented.
It also said that in the wider spectrum of things, ingestion is merely a single aspect of the greater plastic crisis.
Plastic pollution is threatening wildlife through microplastic ingestion, entanglement in discarded fishing nets and habitat degradation with beaches and mangroves being littered with plastic.
Irresponsible disposal of plastics have their economic consequences too as fisheries and aquaculture industries bear the brunt of the environmental damage, WWF said.
It added that the United Nations Environment Programme had estimated the annual economic impact of pollution on the ocean economy to be at S$11 billion (US$8 billion).
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