Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 7 News List

People ingesting plastic equivalent to a credit card every week: researchers

AFP, PARIS

People worldwide could be ingesting 5g of microscopic plastic particles every week, equivalent in weight to a credit card, researchers said yesterday.

Coming mostly from tap and especially bottled water, nearly invisible bits of polymer were also found in shellfish, beer and salt, scientists and the University of Newcastle in Australia reported.

The findings, drawn from 52 peer-reviewed studies, are the first to estimate the sheer weight of plastics consumed by individual humans: about 250g per year.

Another study calculated that the average American eats and drinks in about 45,000 plastic particles smaller than 130 microns annually, while breathing in roughly the same number.

“Not only are plastics polluting our oceans and waterways and killing marine life, it’s in all of us,” said Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, which commissioned the new report. “If we don’t want it in our bodies, we need to stop the millions of tons of plastic that continue leaking into nature every year.”

In the past two decades, the world has produced as much plastic as during the rest of history, and the industry is set to grow by 4 percent per year until 2025, a report by Grand View Research said.

More than 75 percent of all plastic winds up as waste. One-third of that — about 100 million tonnes — is dumped or leaches into nature, polluting land, rivers and the sea.

The ocean would contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, The New Plastics Economy report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said.

Plastic particles have been found inside fish in the deepest parts of the ocean and blanketing the most pristine snows in the Pyrenees between France and Spain.

The authors of yesterday’s report were up-front about the limitations of their research, starting with the fact that little is known about health consequences.

Gaps in data were filled with assumptions and extrapolations that could be challenged, although the estimates were on the conservative side, they said, inviting other researchers to build on their conclusions.

“Developing a method of transforming counts of microplastic particles into masses will help determine the potential toxicological risks for humans,” said coauthor Thava Palanisami, a microplastics expert at the University of Newcastle.

Some experts remained skeptical about long-term effects.

“Based on the evidence that is currently available, I do not think that health effects of microplastics are a major concern,” University of East Anglia professor of ecology Alastair Grant told reporters, but added that does not mean plastics are not a major problem.

“What we do need is political and economic actions to reduce the amounts of plastic being disposed of into the environment and encourage recycling,” Grant said.

Media and watchdog reports have uncovered numerous cases of plastic waste from rich countries destined for recycling in poorer ones being dumped or burned instead.

“This is likely to have much more serious health effects than a rather small number of plastic particles in food and water,” Grant said.

The WWF said that only hard targets backed by binding national commitments could hope to stem the plastics tide.

“Zero plastics” does not mean no plastics used, but waste must be folded back into a circular economy, and plastics should no longer be made from fossil fuels, WWF global plastics policy manager Eirik Lindebjerg said.

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