Microplastics: Don’t Let Size Fool You!
Just because we can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that small means harmless. Consider heavy metals – even small doses can cause serious damage. In recent years we’ve all been hearing that plastic is accumulating in the oceans in particular. Despite breaking apart, it doesn’t get integrated in a healthy way into the ecosystem. Instead, microplastics form and we are only beginning to understand where they end up and the repercussions on human health. The saving grace is that there are practical actions we can take to protect ourselves.
Microplastics - pieces of plastic under 5mm in diameter - can be visible to the naked eye but can also be tiny particles the size of cells. Research indicates that the smaller the particle, the more dangerous as they can more easily be absorbed into the tissues of living creatures where they remain ever after.
Every ecosystem on the planet has been infiltrated by microplastics. They are found in the deepest parts of the oceans, on high mountains, on uninhabited islands and inside animals and humans. 14 billion tons of microplastics are estimated to be in the oceans today and they account for 92% of the plastic on the ocean’s surface. These particles don’t go away (as plastic doesn’t biodegrade) and are likely to increase in concentration over time as more plastic enters our waterways and other natural environments.
Research on the effect of microplastics on humans is limited, which is disconcerting. That said, according to some estimations, including the World Wildlife Federation humans ingest, on average, 5 g of plastic every week which equals the weight of a credit card. Plastic is not only in the food we eat, and the water we drink but in the air we breathe. A study from 2022 was able to identify microplastics in human lungs for the first time. Traces of PET (used to produce drink bottles), polystyrene (food containers) and polyethylene (food packaging) have even been found in breast milk and infant blood.
Where do microplastics come from? While some microplastics enter the environment because synthetic fibres (clothing, fishing nets) shed, they can also be intentionally produced for commercial use. These tiny particles are added to self-care products for exfoliating and scrubbing purposes. Thankfully, in July 2019 Canada banned the sale and manufacturing of microbeads in toiletries, after labeling them as toxic.
If you are a tea drinker you might want to make sure you’re not accidentally adding plastic to your hot cuppa as tea bags are often made of plastic or the fabric is sealed with polypropylene. More microplastics are found in tea than in the other food and beverages known to be contaminated, i.e. bottled and tap water, fruit and vegetables, rice, beer, honey, sugar, fish and shellfish, chicken, salt and wine with polyethylene stoppers which all commonly contain microplastics.
Plastic can enter the food chain through polluted soil fertilized with bio-solids – aka human waste. These biosolids infect the crops and then enter the meat and dairy we consume. Plastic contamination also comes through food processing and packaging. Fresh food might be plastic free when harvested or caught but once it’s been handled and packaged, the machinery, cutting boards and plastic wrap can deposit both micro and nano plastics.
What’s the problem with consuming microplastics? Currently there are no studies that will definitively state what levels of plastic are considered safe but scientists have linked microplastic exposure to cancer, severe immune reactions and reproductive disorders. Plastic contains additives like fillers, lubricants, dyes and flame retardants that are known endocrine disruptors. These can lead to cancerous tumours, developmental disorders, birth defects and re-productive problems. It’s even possible that plastic exposure can cause changes in our DNA which could lead to yet undetermined intergenerational effects.
Because of the ubiquitous nature of potentially harmful microplastics, the best advice to prevent harm is to limit your exposure and prioritize a healthy lifestyle that aids the natural detoxification processes.
Here are some suggested ways to limit the plastic on your plate and in your cup:
filter your tap water
don’t drink bottled water
limit intake of shellfish
buy unpackaged fruit and vegetables and have your meat wrapped in paper when possible
get plastic out of your kitchen. Choose glass whenever you can for leftovers
don’t microwave your food in plastic
avoid plastic take-out containers - take your own glass ones and always have a (non-plastic) reusable water bottle and coffee cup available
avoid single use plastic of all kinds
choose a plastic free personal care routine
choose natural textiles, wash synthetic ones less often and air dry your clothes
In an ideal world, plastic production would cease and we’d deal with the mess we’ve already made but, in the meantime, recycling is at minimum a good option that keeps the plastic you use out of the environment and gives it a chance of being reused.
Notes from Waste Manager Mark: Parents, if you’re accompanying your children on the Free Store porch, please clean up the mess they make.
Island Trash Removal: On the second Wednesday of the month, July 12th, from 10 am until the barge is full - at the False Bay barge ramp. Any changes due to weather will be post-ed on the email list, FB Lasqueti Hotwire, and the Lasqueti website. No construction materials, renovation or demolition waste, prohibited waste, organics, recyclable material or stewardship materials. $7.50 per bag. $37.50 for a truckload. Mattresses and boxsprings $15 each. Please call Mark is you have any questions about what constitutes acceptable garbage.
Recycling Depot: Fall/Winter Hours Apr 1st-Sep 30th
Mon 10 am – 5 pm, Thursdays 10 am - 5 pm
Closed on Statutory Holidays. All recycling is monitored. Please bring it CLEAN and DRY.
Free Store: Fall/Winter Hours Apr 1st-Sep 30th
Monday 10 am – 2 pm and Thursday 1 - 5 pm
Please respect the signs. Drop donations during open hours so they can be quarantined. Outstanding items only, i.e. clean, usable clothing and household items. Please, NO food, garbage, recycling, TV’s, soft foam, batteries, electrical devices, mattresses or hazardous materials, ie: chemicals, fluorescent light tubes, prescription/non-prescription drugs, or pills in general. There are recycling programs on Vancouver Island for many of these materials.
Recycle BC Website: www.recyclebc.ca/what-can-i-recycle
Return-It Beverage Depot open 24/7 Front left of Free Store. Open 24/7.
Front left of the Free Store. No refundable glass (beer, wine, hard liquor) bottles, please take these to the nearest Return-It Beverage depot yourself. Yes to aluminum beer, cider, pop cans, coconut water cans, boxed wine cartons (leave them intact) and tetra juice packs, including (rinsed) milk and milk substitute containers. Please leave the caps on and push the straws in and do not crush containers. Labels can be left on.