Microplastics. What are they? Where do they come from? And why does it matter? Even if you think you have a grasp on your plastic consumption, you’re likely buying, using and disposing items you didn’t even know were made from microplastics. 

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Every piece of plastic ever produced is still on the planet in some form. It might look like that original water or soda bottle. It might be crushed in a landfill, or it may be floating about in the ocean. Plastics never completely degrade, which means they simply get smaller and smaller until you can’t see them, yet they exist in the soil, water and food supply. These are called microplastics, and they’ve been found in everything from the fish we eat to baby food and most recently in human blood. We don’t know the long-term effects of ingesting microplastics, but it can’t be good. Here are some unlikely places microplastics might be hiding in your home. 

Related: Microplastics contaminate human blood, says new study

A white tank top laid next to a cardboard box on a cream floor

Clothing

Every time you do laundry, you’re likely flushing microbeads into the water supply. That’s because clothing is commonly made with synthetic materials, AKA petroleum-based plastic. Every time an article of clothing is washed, microplastics slough off and go down the drain, eventually hitting streams and oceans. If it’s man made, it’s likely shedding. Replace microfiber fleece, polyester, acrylic and nylons with all natural materials such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo. 

Toiletries

Face wash, body wash, toothpaste and other everyday personal hygiene products often include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon (PA). They make for inexpensive exfoliants even though they’ve been banned in some countries because of the negative impact associated with them. 

Tea bags

Unless you’ve committed to loose leaf tea, you’re likely steeping in microplastics with each sip. Even if the tag is paper and the bag comes without additional plastic packaging, the tea bag itself is likely coated in a protective layer of polyethylene.

A man wearing a hoodie stretching a gum out of his mouth

Gum

In its original form, gum was made from natural chicle gum base, a product sourced from the sap of the Sapodilla tree. However, about the time plastic made its ubiquitous entry into the product market, gum manufacturers began mixing in microplastics to enhance the chewiness at a lower cost. Umm, yuck! Of course, it won’t be called plastic on the label. Look for the phrase “gum base,” and convert to all-natural brands with a short ingredient list instead.  

Disposable coffee cups

They may look like paper cups, but that added layer of water protection is a plastic coating. The once and done aspect of disposable cups not only contributes to overall waste, but amplifies the problem with microplastics blended into the mix. 

Sea salt

Sea salts from around the world shake out as a shining example of how the actions of consumers affect everyone on the planet. Few years ago, a study found microplastics in 90% of the sea salt brands tested. It’s another reason to keep any form of plastic from reaching the ocean. 

Food and beverage cans

It seems every plastic bottle you pick up proudly states, “BPA free.” That’s because this type of plastic became a health concern after studies showed a relationship between the plastic resin and the human body’s endocrine system. However, the substance is still used in aluminum beverage containers, notably in Coca-Cola. It’s been claimed the soda would eat through the aluminum in a few days without the BPA lining. Beverage manufacturers have reportedly cut back on the material. However, it’s still reliably in at least half the beverage cans on the planet. 

Additionally, canned food containers have been investigated for plastic content. The packaging itself is less of a concern since most canned goods in the U.S. are made from steel rather than aluminum

Canning jar lids

Your food isn’t the only thing being preserved in glass jars. The lids are commonly lined with the same BPA coating as the aluminum cans mentioned above. Some manufacturers have found alternatives, but the majority of lids on the market still contain the inexpensive and durable materials, which acts as a prevention for rust and corrosion. 

Rainbow colored glitter

Glitter

You don’t want to hear it, but yes, glitter is a plastic product. Even if you skip it in bottle form, watch for it on cards and gift wrap, as well as in makeup. On a related note, clothing and accessory embellishments such as beads and sequins are no longer made from the traditional wood and metal, now commonly being made of plastic instead. 

What you can do about microplastics

Knowing every particle of plastic will keep coming around in one form or another is motivation to skip it altogether — a feat that is nearly impossible in the past 20 years. Do what you can to buy quality clothes and linens made from natural materials. Watch for plastic in your furniture too. Be conscientious at the grocery store, and bring your own cloth produce and shopping bags. Also get into the habit of making food from scratch. It’s fresher and healthier without the plastic packaging. Replace your deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush and other toiletries for plastic-free options too. While you’re making changes for the benefit of your health and the environment, read labels carefully so you know what you’re getting. 

Via Moral Fibres, Orca Nation, Seaside with Emily and Meghan Telpner

Images via Pexels