If you follow the news, you probably have heard about the alarming quantities of plastic waste in our oceans and waterways, not to mention the mind-boggling rate at which this plastic enters our marine environment—approximately one dump truck per minute (and projected to increase to 4 dump trucks per minute by 2050!). You might even have heard about how this plastic waste degrades in the environment and breaks down into tiny particles called “microplastics,” which have been found in marine life, not to mention in birds and other animals higher up the food chain.
However, we bet you have never heard of microplastics being found in our guts and poop. This is exactly what a team of Austrian scientists found after analyzing stool samples from eight study participants from Austria, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Poland and the United Kingdom. According to the pilot study, which was published on Monday in the United European Gastroenterology Journal, nine different types of microplastics were found in ALL eight of the stool samples tested. The study participants kept a journal of the food they ate one week prior to the sampling. Six participants ate fish during this time period and all drank from plastic bottles and consumed food that was packaged in plastic. It is currently unclear how the microplastics entered the bodies of the eight study participants.
Although the study was small with only eight participants, and although the concentration of contaminants that were detected was relatively low (i.e., 20 particles of microplastics per 10 grams of fecal matter), the research seems to confirm that plastic is migrating into our bodies. While it is hard to tell whether such small amounts of microplastics are harmful to humans since no toxicity studies have been performed to date, their presence in our bodies cannot be a good thing. Indeed, studies in animals suggest a range of potentially harmful consequences, including for organs, intestines and hormone regulation.
We do not believe it is time to panic, especially with such limited information available on the subject of microplastics and human toxicity. However, we do believe it is time to act to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics across all industries. At Cleanyst, we are focused on minimizing plastic packaging waste from home and body care products. Admittedly, home and body care products account for only five percent of the overall plastic packaging market, and therefore our efforts are but one piece of a much larger puzzle. Nonetheless, we believe that every positive step makes a difference and hope that other industries will follow our lead. As this recent study on microplastics has taught us, everything adds up and is connected.
Nick Gunia, Co-Founder