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  • Abhay Bhagwat

Microplastics in human blood confirmed

The blood flowing in your veins. You think of red blood cells, vitamins, minerals, maybe a bit too much sugar, and as of March this year, you should probably think of microplastics.

A Dutch study published in the journal Environment International found that of the participants they tested, people like you and me, living in Holland, 80% of them had microplastics in their blood. And while we don’t yet know the effects of this, initial research would suggest it is not a good thing.

The use of plastics in everyday items since the 1950’s has resulted in an estimated 50 million or more tons of plastic waste in the environment. Much of that is in landfill sites and a lot of it is in the ocean and littering the seas, lakes and beaches of our planet. It is now the most prevalent type of litter in both the ocean and the Great Lakes.

While it’s in the ocean, sunlight, wind and the movement of waves breaks plastic down into smaller and smaller pieces until they become “secondary microplastics”. These are ingested by fish and enter the human food chain. Meanwhile, what we call “primary microplastics” are those to which humans are exposed from cosmetics, disposable cups and synthetic fabrics and the like.

Microplastics are now ubiquitous in our biosphere.

Having long been found in fish, it was already known that they were part of the food chain. And a small study in Vienna in 2019 found that 100% of the participants had them in their stool. And yet it is only now that research has shown that they do enter the bloodstream.

Exposure to plastics has been examined as a probable cause of a growing trend of male infertility (E.g D’Angelo and Meccariello, 2021). And in 2016 a study showed microplastics from the north sea carrying the pathogen which causes human cholera.

Many recent studies suggest that we have hugely underestimated our exposure to microplastics, and the new discovery of these in human blood has been taken as something of a wake up call to consider more closely what they might be doing to us.

Currently we still don’t know.

But some of the things we do know are that once plastic is made, it’s very difficult to get rid of - almost all the plastic humans have made since the 1950s is still on our planet today.

Recycling of plastic reduces the problem and must be encouraged, but the best approach is to use less plastic in the first instance.

At Packaging for the Future we use our Zero-Based approach to help reduce the amount of plastic required in packaging, and have been able to reduce the quantity of plastic used by some of the world’s largest brands by as much as 50%. This translates to a reduction of 100,000 tons of plastic per year and the associated savings of €150 million. Still there is more to be done. If you’d like to see how we might be able to help you reduce the need for plastic in your packaging, be in touch.

And if you know a non-profit organisation that works on reducing plastics in the environment who’d benefit from our pro-bono assistance, you can let us know too.

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