Skip to main content
Microplastics in our Bodies. Where are they coming from?

Microplastics in our Bodies. Where are they coming from?

Microplastics are literally coming from everywhere as many pieces actually enter our bodies from the air

The first thing to know is that micro-plastics are that they are way way more pervasive than the obvious stuff you might know about: the gritty micro-beads that have been banned from body scrubs; the glitter in your beard or hair or the fibres coming off your child's favourite soft toy. 

50 pieces of microplastic with each meal

We ingest a pile of microplastics. The average person ingests between 13,731 and 68,415 pieces of microplastic each year, at home, mostly while eating.  Despite the amount of microplastics we now know are in the food we eat, like fish and ocean salt, the reality is that most of the microplastics that enter our bodies are from airborne sources and they enter via our noses, through simply breathing or via our mouths while eating. 

Microfibres are in the dust of our homes (eg fibres from anything synthetic in our homes); piled up and breaking down in landfill (eg zillions of plastic bags); our streets (eg fragments from tyres) and oceans (look overboard - that's plastic soup). Micro plastic particles have been found in their thousands in tap water, bottled water (more), soda and beer. 

Nothing, nowhere, nobody is immune. 

How come no one told us?

They kind of did. We probably just didn't hear. Somewhat ironically, just like climate science, there is a pile of evidence and equally frustrated scientists who have been researching and reporting on microplastics for years - their existence and their health risks, but beyond the micro bead bans in body and cleaning products, there has been little media or scrutiny. Beyond recent studies that revealed microplastics in our poop, little is known about health risks, although a lot is suspected. 

Numerous studies reveal microplastics in tap water

Below is an outline of the findings from just one study last year, published in Environmental Science & Health, but there have been many before it. (In case you start snoozing after the second line, it's essentially telling you that there are thousands of microplastics in raw water and around 20% are still there after the water is treated. Most of it is less than 1 micron - 1/1000 of a millimetre. The particles seem to mostly come from packaging.)

Report: Microplastics were found in all water samples and their average abundance ranged from 1473 ± 34 to 3605 ± 497 particles L−1 in raw water and from 338 ± 76 to 628 ± 28 particles L−1 in treated water, depending on the WTP. This study is one of very few that determine microplastics down to the size of 1 μm, while MPs smaller than 10 μm were the most plentiful in both raw and treated water samples, accounting for up to 95%.

Further, microplastics were divided into three categories according to their shape. Fragments clearly prevailed at two of the WTPs and fibres together with fragments predominated at one case. Despite 12 different materials forming the microplastics being identified, the majority of the microplastics (>70%) comprised of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), PP (polypropylene) and PE (polyethylene). This study contributes to fill the knowledge gap in the field of emerging microplastic pollution of drinking water and water sources, which is of concern due to the potential exposure of microplastics to humans.

Bottled water is often worse

A study by scientists based at the Fredonia State University of New York in 2018 found an average of 325 plastic particles in bottled water. Pure Life, by Nestle had as many as 10,000 pieces. Most of the plastics come from the lid, not the bottle. 

Textile fibres account for 16% of world plastic production

The annual production of plastic textile fibres has increased by more than 6% per year, reaching 60 million metric tons, about 16% of world plastic production. The degradation of these fibres is ongoing, releasing fibres into the air as synthetic fibre garments are worn, and into water in the wash when cleaned.

Health impacts of inhaled microplastics

According to researchers Gasperi et al, most of the fibres over 3μm are likely to be subjected to mucociliary clearance - collected and dumped in your stomach; however, some may persist in the lung causing localized biological responses, including inflammation, especially in individuals with compromised clearance mechanisms.

Associated contaminants such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) could desorb and lead to genotoxicity while the plastic itself and its additives (dyes, plasticizers) could lead to health effects including reproductive toxicity, carcinogenicity and mutagenicity.

Just how much plastic is there in the world?

Another bunch of researchers estimated in 2017 that 8300 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date and the infographic below outlines what has happened to it.

As of 2015, approximately 6300 metric tons of plastic waste had been generated, around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050. A great deal of it, breaking into smaller pieces.

*Gasperi, Johnny & Wright, Stephanie & Dris, Rachid & Collard, France & Mandin, Corinne & Guerrouache, Mohamed & Langlois, Valérie & Kelly, Franck & Tassin, Bruno. (2018). Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in?. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health. Volume 1, February 2018, Pages 1–5. 10.1016/j.coesh.2017.10.002. Image: Unsplash - Jacob Dziubak / Infographic - Roland Geyer,


Something incorrect here? Suggest an update below:
Eco Intel Editor

You are right of course - and it's not particularly settling to know that you are ingesting plastic even if you aren't using it yourself or contributing to the problem. (Although it's impossible not to be associated in some way.) With airborne dust plastics at home, that is one thing we have can have some control over and essentially means being way more conscious of anything that releases plastic fibres. Clothes, cleaning products, furniture, decor - everything. Friday, 3 May 2019

Simone N

So we just need to do our best to reject plastic?? We’re very conscious of it and it’s impossible in this world we live in :-( Tuesday, 30 April 2019