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EnvironmentScientists gave mice water with the amount of microplastics estimated to be...

Scientists gave mice water with the amount of microplastics estimated to be ingested by humans each week

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In recent years, anxiety about the spread of microplastics has been growing. It is in the oceans, even in animals and plants, and in the bottled water we drink daily.

Microplastics seem to be everywhere. And what is even more unpleasant is that it is not only everywhere around us, but also unexpectedly in the human organism.

According to researchers at the University of New Mexico, microplastics from the water and food we consume, as well as the air we breathe, make their way from our intestines to other parts of the body, such as the kidneys, liver and even the brain.

To reach this new conclusion, for four weeks the scientists gave mice water with the amount of microplastics that humans are thought to ingest each week. Previous studies have shown that five grams of microplastic enter the human body every week, which is roughly the weight of a credit card.

According to Eliseo Castillo, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, the discovery that microplastics are making their way from the gut to other tissues in the human body is concerning. According to him, it changes the immune cells, called macrophages, and this can lead to inflammation in the body.

Further, in another study, Dr. Castillo will focus on how a person’s diet affects the way microplastics are absorbed by the body.

He and his team will subject the lab animals to several different diets, including one high in fat and one high in fiber. Pieces of microplastic will be part of the “menu” of some of the animals, while others will not.

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, however, regardless of the type of food we eat, there is no escaping microplastics. Scientists have found that 90% of proteins, including vegan alternatives, contain microplastics, which are linked to negative health effects.

Could biodegradable plastics help?

The backlash against single-use plastics has seen many companies seeking to use alternatives that claim to be more biodegradable or compostable. But in some cases these alternatives may actually be compounding the microplastic problem. Research by scientists at the University of Plymouth in the UK found that bags labelled as “biodegradable” can take years to disintegrate, and even then they mostly break down into smaller pieces rather than their component chemical parts. (Learn more about why biodegradables won’t solve the plastic crisis in this article by Kelly Oakes.)

What about switching to glass bottles?

Swapping out plastic packaging could potentially help to reduce exposure – tap water has lower levels of microplastics than water from plastic bottles. But it would also have environmental repercussions. While glass bottles have a high recycling rate, they also have a higher environmental footprint than plastic and other packaging used for liquids such as drinks cartons and aluminium cans. This is because the mining of silica, which glass is made of, can cause significant environmental damage, including land deterioration and biodiversity loss. Even with these non-plastic receptacles, it’s hard to escape microplastics entirely. Studies led by Sherri Mason at Pennsylvania State University have found they are not only present in tap water, where most of the plastic contamination comes from clothing fibres, but also sea salt and even beerRead more about whether glass or plastic is better for the environment.

Can anything be done to reduce microplastics?

Fortunately, there is some hope. Researchers are developing a number of approaches to help get rid of the plastic pollution in our environment. One approach has been to turn to fungi and bacteria that feed on plastic, breaking it down in the process. A species of beetle larvae that can devour polystyrene has also offered another potential solution. Others are looking at using water filtration techniques or chemical treatments that can remove microplastics.

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