People love salt. There is scarcely a food tradition that doesn’t use the stuff, and many folks are accustomed to having a salt shaker on the dining table at every meal. In China, researchers have revealed that Chinese samples of salt from various sources contain tiny plastic particles. The study, conducted at Shanghai’s East China Normal University and published in Environmental Science and Technology, has scientists around the world concerned about how extensive the plastic waste problem has become.

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So, how does the plastic get into the salt? It almost makes sense that sea salt would contain some plastic particles, since it’s sourced from, well, the sea. It’s not news that there are vast amounts of plastic waste in the world’s largest bodies of water, especially in the Pacific Ocean. Because of China’s geographic relationship to the Pacific, it’s not all that surprising to learn that sea salt harvested there would contain some plastic. The amounts researchers found, though, are quite staggering.

Related: Boyan Slat’s Great Pacific Garbage Patch expedition shows the plastic problem is “even bigger than we thought”

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The truly disturbing discovery revealed during the study was that salt from other sources – such as mines and wells – also contained plastic, although to a lesser extent than the sea salt. Although the study results might put people off salt for a while, the real discovery is how truly pervasive the problem of plastic waste has become on our fair planet. Basically, the stuff is everywhere. “Plastics have become such a ubiquitous contaminant, I doubt it matters whether you look for plastic in sea salt on Chinese or American supermarket shelves,” Sherri Mason, an environmental science researcher at the State University of New York Fredonia told Scientific American.

There are essentially two lessons here. One is that you shouldn’t buy salt in China. The other is that we, the human inhabitants of this green Earth, really need to get ahead of this plastic problem, if it’s not already too late.

Via Quartz

Images via Shutterstock (1, 2) and East China Normal University