The first-ever study to calculate how much plastic Americans are eating every year has some unsavory findings. According to research published in Environmental Science and Technology, the average American adult consumes 50,000 particles of microplastic every year. That number jumps to between 74,000 and 121,000 particles if combined with the average number of particles inhaled.

The researchers used existing data on microplastic content in popular foods, including fish, sugar, salt, beer and water and multiplied these averages by the U.S. government’s daily dietary consumption guidelines. Because the existing data only covers about 15 percent of Americans’ caloric intake, researchers believe these estimates are modest, and the actual number of microplastics eaten every day is much higher.

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The research also concludes that water from plastic water bottles is one of the highest sources of microplastic ingestion. According to The Guardian, water in plastic bottles has 22 times more microplastics than tap water.

Plastic materials are not biodegradable, which means they never decompose. Instead, they exist in landfills, oceans and ecosystems for centuries, slowly breaking down into smaller pieces through erosion and weatherization. Eventually, the particles become so small they are difficult to detect but can easily be ingested and inhaled by animals like birds, turtles, fish and apparently also humans.

The implications on human health are still unknown as long-term studies do not yet exist; however, there is concern that the microplastics can enter human tissue and cause toxicity and allergic reactions.

“Removing single-use plastic from your life and supporting companies that are moving away from plastic packaging is going to have a non-trivial impact,” said study lead Kieran Cox of the University of Victoria. “The facts are simple. We are producing a lot of plastic and it is ending up in the ecosystems, which we are a part of.”

+ Environmental Science and Technology

Via The Guardian

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