Aqua’s famous pop song “Barbie Girl” tells us that “life in plastic is fantastic,” but it’s safe to say that most real people would disagree. Unfortunately, we are rapidly filling our planet and ourselves with more and more plastic.
The first synthetic plastic was developed just 115 years ago, in 1907. Since then, humanity has been producing more and more plastic and using it for almost anything and everything. In 1950, only two million tons of plastic were produced. Fast forward to 2019 and that figure will jump to an astonishing 368 million tons!
Making things even more wasteful is the fact that plastic products are unlikely to be useful in the long run. It is estimated that about 40% of all plastic is used for nothing more than packaging and thrown away within one month. Plastic is also non-biodegradable, meaning that bits of plastic trash left in forests, on sidewalks, and drifting in the ocean aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Eventually, these large pieces of plastic break down into smaller ones, spreading and polluting the surrounding areas.
The problem of plastic pollution is well documented, but did you know that your own body is also being bombarded with plastic? According to one recent study, the average modern adult ingests between 39,000 and 52,000 microplastic particles a year.
These tiny microplastic particles and even smaller plastic nanoparticles can enter the human body from a variety of sources. Seafood, table salt, tap and bottled water, and even the air in your home are just a few of the ways plastic enters our bodies.
Noteworthy new research just published in a scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology discovered another possible source of covert ingestion of plastic that had so far gone undetected. Keep reading to find out more!
Nylon cooking bags, plastic cups and trillions of nanoparticles
The authors of the study from the American Chemical Society report that the plastic contained in both nylon cooking bags and plastic-lined cardboard cups is being released. trillions nanoparticles in every liter of water they touch.
A nylon cooking bag can make life in the kitchen much easier. Great for keeping food moist in the oven or simplifying slow cook recipes, countless cooks rely on food grade nylon.
Similarly, plastic-lined glasses, usually meant to be single-use, come in very handy when you need some coffee on the go. The plastic covering the cups keeps your coffee hot while preventing possible dirty leaks.
These cooking hacks are certainly convenient, but are they worth the potential ingestion of countless plastic nanoparticles? First, let’s get a better feel for how tiny these nanoparticles really are:
“In our study, we measured nanoplastics smaller than 100 nm (nanometers) from very common materials. For reference on the size of these particles: 1000 particles with a diameter of 100 nm can fit on a human hair. So, these are very small particles,” says lead author of the study, Dr. Christopher D. Zangmeister.
Safe according to FDA standards
Many will probably not be confident about using these products in the future. But, believe it or not, the puzzling truth is that the FDA claims trillions of nanoparticles are fit for human consumption.
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) measures the release of food and beverage contact materials by weight, regardless of the state of that material. The released material can be a dissolved low molecular weight polymer chain that forms the backbone of the plastic, or plastic particles,” explains Sangmeister. .
“The released materials were below the weight limit set by the FDA for food grade nylon, and we do not know if the condition of the released material affects the health of the person consuming the food or drink,” he continues. .
The inconvenient truth is that there is still so much we don’t know about nanoparticles released from plastic. The potential health consequences for humans remain largely a mystery. Theoretically, these nanoparticles are small enough to enter our cells, potentially affecting their functioning, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Both room temperature and hot water were poured into low density polyethylene lined cardboard cups and nylon slow cook bags (from various retailers).
When the slow cooker was kept hot for an hour, 35 trillion plastic nanoparticles dissolved in a liter of water in each bag. Similarly, when hot water was poured into 12-ounce cups in just 20 minutes, 5.1 trillion plastic nanoparticles were “leached” out of every liter.
Water at room temperature also led to the release of nanoparticles, but not to the same extent.
According to the research team’s calculations, a person would have to drink 13 cups of hot water from a plastic-lined cup to swallow the equivalent of one particle of nanoplastic for every seven cells in their body. Drinking half a liter of hot water from a pastry bag would have the same effect.
Moreover, nylon bags and disposable coffee cups are far from the only sources of nanoparticles emitted by plastic.
“We focused on food grade nylon and nanoplastics from disposable coffee cups, but we also looked at other common materials. We have found similar particles in many other commonly used materials such as plastic bags, plastic pipes and containers. ”, says Sangmeister.
At the moment, modern science is far from determining the impact of these nanoparticles on human health when taken orally. In fact, the authors of the study admit that we are not yet technically ready to address this important issue.
“Currently, we are trying to determine what materials emit particles, their composition, size range and concentration in water. In parallel, determine their role, if any, for human health. It will take a lot of additional work to understand their effect. Factors such as particle size and chemical composition can play a role,” says Sangmeister.
Don’t worry about completely eliminating plastic nanoparticles. This is a stupid idea. We are literally surrounded by plastic all the time. Nanoplastics are even present in most of the world’s drinking water. These finds are the smaller part of a much larger puzzle…probably made of plastic.
“As I said, we are still in the early stages of answering these questions. It is important to understand that many of these materials that we have not thought about are common consumer materials that come into contact with our food and drink. , can produce plastic that is easily consumed,” Sangmeister concludes.