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July 3, 2023

Our Plastic Awareness Month newsletter series is focused on raising awareness about the different types of plastic and their effects on human health. The series will consist of four articles, which will be released once a week throughout July. Each article will cover examples of how plastic impacts our health, offering helpful tips and information to encourage readers to reduce plastic pollution for healthier living.

There’s been public concern over recent years regarding microplastics, very small particles of broken-down plastic products that are beginning to turn up in our oceans and lakes. This plastic debris is less than 5 millimeters in length and its potential impacts on our environment are not yet known however, are more than likely detrimental.

Microplastics not only come from broken-down plastic products, but they are also manufactured. Also known as microbeads, small pieces of polyethylene plastic are often used in beauty products such as facial exfoliants. Because these plastic particles are so small (about the size of a poppy seed), they can easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in our oceans and lakes.

The impact of these microplastics on aquatic life has become a great concern. Although the long-term effects of these microplastics are still being studied, the United States has started taking steps to reduce potential contamination from these foreign particles [1].

In 2018, former president Barak Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, banning the use of microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products such as facial cleansers and toothpaste [2].

Researchers have discovered microplastics began showing up in the digestive system of marine life, causing concern for the impact on these animals as well as those who eat them. In recent studies, researchers have found microplastics have also made their way into humans begging the question, how will this affect the long-term health of humans [3]?

With microplastics becoming a growing problem with lurking consequences that are not yet known, now is the time to take action to reduce your exposure to these contaminants. Taking small steps in your daily routine can make a significant impact.

Limit your consumption of potentially contaminated sea life, specifically shellfish which are likely to contain the highest amount of microplastics. Swap out plastic wraps and bags for silicone or glass and avoid heating items in plastic packaging.

Always read label information for products such as cosmetics and avoid purchasing single-use items in plastic packaging. You can even take steps to reduce microplastics by looking at your clothing and laundry routine. Try to purchase cotton clothing items versus synthetic materials as these can generate microplastics. If you have some of these items in your closet, try washing them less often, hanging them dry, and avoiding using delicate cycles which utilize more water.

Although some of these changes may seem like a hassle, or cause extra time during the day, the benefits are likely far worth the extra trouble. Even though there is not yet a definitive answer as to how these microplastics affect human health, researchers can unanimously agree that the likely result is detrimental.