Science

The Health Impacts of Microplastics

These small pieces pose a big risk

In today's world, plastic is everywhere, buildings, cars, packaging, machinery - the list is nearly endless. There's really no place you won't find it. Despite its utility, there are a host of problems associated with plastics (1, 2). You've likely heard of the impact that larger pieces of discarded plastic can have - for instance plastic straws finding their way into the ocean.

Unfortunately, there are even smaller pieces of plastic in the environment that you can't see: microplastics. Approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are estimated to be currently polluting the ocean (3). They have been found in seawater, freshwater, sediment, soil, and air. Microplastics have even made their way into our food and drinks, such as beer, tap water, and sea salt (4).

So what dangers do microplastics pose? And what simple steps can you take to limit their pollution? Read on and find out!

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, less than 5 millimeters long. They can be generally separated into two categories: primary microplastics and secondary microplastics (5).

Primary microplastics are plastics that were originally manufactured to be, well, micro. Already less than 5 millimeters when created, they are found in textiles, medicines, and personal care products like facial scrubs or toothpaste (4, 5). Secondary microplastics, on the other hand, are fragments of larger plastics like fishing nets or household products. This fragmentation occurs due to physical, chemical, and biological interaction with the environment such as sunlight exposure (often termed photodegradation) or wind abrasion (5).

The microplastics found in the environment today originate from both land- and ocean-based human activity. Ocean-based sources, like commercial fishing and other marine-based operations, make up about 20% of the total microplastics found while land-based sources make up the other 80%. These land-based sources, like the personal care products mentioned earlier (e.g., toothpaste, facial scrubs), air-blasting processes, microfibers from synthetic materials, and improperly disposed runoff from landfills, bleed into rivers and find their way into oceans as well (5).

The health effects of microplastics are still being studied, but there is potential for harm

Microplastics can be ingested in drinks or food, inhaled through airborne exposure, or contact with particles on skin (5-7).

For animals, especially marine organisms, ingestion of microplastics represents the largest threat. A research team has suggested that there is a correlation between poor fitness of seabirds and ingestion of plastic debris (5). Zebrafish with accumulated ingested microplastics have had altered locomotion, intestinal damage, and change in metabolic profiles (5).

Humans can ingest microplastics in beer, bottled water, even sea salt. And when marine animals ingest it from the ocean, they can act as vectors, carrying it to humans when we eat seafood (5, 7, 8).

While ingestion affects both humans and animals, airborne exposure to microplastics is becoming more worrisome to humans. We can potentially breathe in microplastics through synthetic textiles, erosion of rubber tires, or city dust (5, 6).

No matter what route they take, we know these microplastics are indeed getting into our bodies. What we don't yet know is how long they stay, what accumulates in our systems if they do stay, and what the health effects of chronic ingestion might be. Although research is still ongoing, some potential health effects that may be linked to concentrations of ingested microplastics are metabolic disruption, immune dysfunction, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer (4-6).

Here's how you can help prevent microplastic pollution

Microplastic pollution within our ecosystems may seem impossible for us to stop on an individual level. But there are ways you can reduce your contribution to pollution of microplastics as well as your personal exposure!

Drink less bottled water

Research has shown that Americans who get their recommended amount of daily water from only bottled sources have almost 20 times the exposure compared to Americans who only drink tap water (7)! So here are some simple ways to reduce exposure:

  1. Leave the bottled water at the store and go with the tap at home.
  2. Invest in a simple screw-on water purifier for the faucet if the tap water taste bugs you.
  3. Get a reusable (preferable glass or stainless steel) bottle for tap water on the go.

Disclaimer: if there are major health issues with your tap water (like the lead for instance), those health effects should take precedent and bottled water is okay!

Reduce your use of plastics, especially the single-use variety

Since plastics are so cheap to produce, it often makes them an ideal material for single-use disposable devices (1). Unfortunately, less than 10% of all plastic is actually recycled (10). On top of that, plastics don't chemically degrade very well - instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces (1, 5). Reducing your single-use plastics may seem difficult, but there are many ways to do it! Here are a few:

  1. Cook a few extra times a week instead of ordering takeout that comes in plastic containers.
  2. Leave the Ziplock bags on the shelf and store leftovers in glass containers.
  3. Switch to brands of tea that don't use single-use plastic!
  4. Buy less packaged or processed foods in plastic packaging.

Change your laundry habits

Another large source of microplastics are microfibers, the microplastics found in synthetic fabrics, like fleece (9). Even cotton jeans and t-shirts can have a lot of synthetics blended into them! Machine washing synthetic clothing is one of the easiest ways for microplastics to find their way into the water supply. During the wash cycle, microplastics siphon off through home drains which then runs into water treatment plants that are not yet equipped to catch microplastics. Once the water is released back into the environment, pollution occurs. We've talked through some of the ways to limit microfibers in your laundry before, but let's run through a few again! You can:

1. Wash with cold water and avoid delicate cycles that use high water volumes.

2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach!

3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics.

4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness. Additionally, if you're in the market for a new machine, you can look for those with technological improvements that can trap these particles in the future.

5. Consider getting a laundry bag or Cora ball - each of these catches microfibers so particles cannot get into the water supply.

6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!



References:

1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23337043/

2) https://www.ciel.org/reports/plastic-health-the-hidden-costs-of-a-plastic-planet-february-2019/

3) https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/

4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719344468

5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0043135417310515

6) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0269749117307686

7) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517

8) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40572-018-0206-z

9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368178/

10)https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
Roundups

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

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Healthy eating should be about more than just healthy ingredients! While there are many different specific diets, most definitions of healthy eating involve choosing fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. Refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients are left off the plate. But if healthy ingredients become contaminated with harmful chemicals, are they really healthy? It is time for healthy eating to incorporate more than just ingredients. Healthy eating should also include how the food is packaged and what materials the food comes into contact with while it is being processed, cooked, and stored.
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Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

Life

Artificial or Real Christmas Tree? What's better for you and the environment.

What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

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Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

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