In a recent global study on tap water, scientists found that 83% of drinking water worldwide is contaminated with microplastics. Samples from the United States indicated that a shockingly high 94% of our water is affected. Samples from Europe were comparatively the lowest, but still recorded at 72.2%. Microscopic plastic fibers have essentially infiltrated all aspects of our lives.
Bottled water is even worse than tap, with researchers finding microplastic in 93% of samples. Eleven brands of water from 9 different countries based on geographic diversity and large per capita consumption of bottled water were selected for sampling. These brands are: Aqua, Aquafina, Bisleri, Dasani, E-Pura, Evian, Gerolsteiner, Minalba, Nestle Pure Life, San Pellegrino, and Wahaha. Only 17 of the 259 bottles examined did not contain any microplastic. Water from the brand Gerolsteiner bottled in plastic was compared to Gerolsteiner water bottled in glass. There was almost 200% greater contamination in the water bottled in plastic, indicating that the water source is causing part of the contamination but that the plastic packaging may be causing most of it.
With only 10-20% of plastic being recycled per year, the rest of it ends up contaminating the land, air, and sea. We are producing about 300 million tons of plastic per year with around 50% of that being single use; meaning it is thrown away after an average of 15 minutes. Plastic is arguably the most wasteful product ever invented.
Our filtration process does not accurately eliminate plastic from our drinking water. More research must be done to determine the source from which the microplastics enter the water. But plastic is everywhere. Microplastic fibers are smaller than 5mm in size and found in clothes, toiletries, construction sites, and more. Uncovering one source to eliminate the plastic is unlikely.
Microplastics absorb and then release toxic chemicals like endocrine disruptors into the environment. Biopsies have shown that marine life has been killed from consuming plastic and that oceanic populations are endangered. And now, we too are subject to endocrine disruptors being released in our bodies. If we continue to produce something so unsustainable and toxic it could eventually harm us in ways we never anticipated.
According to Scott Belcher, Ph.D. Research Professor, North Carolina State University: “Chemicals from plastics are a constant part of our daily diet. We generally assume the water bottle holding that pure spring water, the microwave-safe plastic bowl we prepare our meals in, or the styrofoam cup holding a hot drink is there protecting our food and drinks. Rather than acting as a completely inert barrier, these plastics are breaking down and leaching chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting plasticizers like BPA or phthalates, flame retardants, and even toxic heavy metals that are all absorbed into our diets and bodies.”
What can you do about this? Lessen your plastic consumption. Give up the plastic bag and straws. Try a toothbrush made of bamboo or another alternative material. Buy a glass water bottle. Use homemade paint and buy clothes and towels that aren’t made of synthetic fabrics like nylon.
And know that the number in a triangle on your plastic product doesn’t indicate how that type of plastic is recycled, only what plastic properties it has. Some can be found here and might surprise you.
Here’s a very handy plastic pollution footprint calculator that helps you figure out just how much plastic you use.