Lauded as the “wonder material of the future,” plastic has become the most ubiquitous material in the world. Used to make everything from food containers, to toys and even exfoliating beads, there is likely more plastic in the world than there are fish in the sea (and probably more plastic in the sea than fish too).
Sure, plastic does make our lives extremely convenient, but it also causes an enormous amount of damage to our environment. While we would like to think that it ends up in a recycling facility, in reality only nine percent of plastics ever meet this fate. The other 91 percent ends up in landfills, or waterways where it causes further damage to local marine life.
We often ascribe to the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy when dealing with plastic trash, but, as we know, nothing ever truly just goes away. There are an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean; around 700 marine species are threatened with extinction thanks to plastic. But, marine animals are hardly the only ones to be impacted by plastic waste.
In fact, there are many ways that all of the plastics we use come back to haunt us.
1. You’ve Got Microbeads in Your Teeth
Everyone wants white teeth but not everyone can afford professional whitening treatments. So, toothpaste companies started making “extra whitening” products that use microbeads to scrub the coffee stains off your pearly whites.
These little beads are tiny plastic spheres that are also used in exfoliating face and body washes. Why toothpaste companies thought it would be a good idea to put miniscule bits of plastic in people’s mouths is beyond us. Especially considering the fact that dentists are now finding these beads lodged in patient’s gingival sulcuses!
Gingival sulcus is the medical term for the crevice between your teeth and gums. Microbeads can become lodged in these small gaps and stay put for years, pending dental cleanings. The effect of having thousands of microbeads trapped in your mouth is still unknown, but medical professionals fear that the beads encourage bacterial growth. We also can’t imagine that the petroleum-based chemicals these beads are made of have a great impact on your dental health and overall well-being either.
2. Eat Fish? You’re Probably Eating Plastic.
Spandex, polyester and nylon clothing are all made of tiny plastic fibers. These miniscule fibers make material stretchy and wrinkle resistant, but they also make a lot of plastic pollution.
How? You might be asking yourself. Well, every time we wash garments made with plastic microfibers, around 1,900 of those fibers are released from the material. You have probably noticed that your spandex starts to get holes or lose its stretch after a while, this happens because it is actually degrading. Sadly, a boat load of microfibers are sent into the waterways every time we do laundry. These fibers are too small to get filtered out in water treatment plants and wind up in the ocean.
Sadly, a boat load of microfibers are sent into the waterways every time we do laundry. These fibers are too small to get filtered out in water treatment plants and wind up in the ocean. Once they make their way there, they are easily consumed by fish, and the plastic becomes part of their muscle and fat tissue. For people who eat fish, this means that about one-third of every bite of food you eat contains plastic compounds. Yuck.
3. Pints of Plastic
Plastic in your teeth was bad, plastic in fish was a little worse, but plastic particles in beer has to top the list. A recent study of Germany’s most popular beers revealed that most contained microscopic plastic fibers. German beer is famous for only containing four ingredients due to their strict purity standards, making microfibers a rather unwelcome fifth. Researchers found up to 78 plastic particles per liter in the most contaminated beers. Major bummer.
Although brewers typically use filtered water, microfibers can often make their way through water treatment plants and even wind up in drinking water. A study of this kind has not been conducted on beers in the U.S. While we would wager that plastics can also be found in many of our favorite brews, we’re almost too afraid to know.
What Can You Do?
Cleaning up the billions of microscopic pieces of plastic floating around in our environment might not be feasible, but stopping the production of new plastic and microplastics is. Being mindful of the products you purchase and knowing whether or not they contain microplastics is a great place to start. Beat the Bead is an incredibly helpful app that can tell you if products contain microbeads by scanning the barcode.
Reducing the amount of plastic that you use in your everyday life is also beneficial. Remember, all the plastics we throw out has the potential to come back to us in some way – and based on these three examples, none of them are pretty.
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
Lead image source: YouTube