A recent study on protein-rich foods, including beef and tofu, revealed microplastics in nearly 90% of samples.
Researchers from the Ocean Conservancy and the University of Toronto analyzed more than a dozen different types of proteins including seafood, pork, chicken, beef, and tofu. They found microplastics in nearly 90% of the samples they tested and estimated that the average American adult may consume at least 11,000 pieces of microplastics each year.
Because highly processed products like breaded shrimp and chicken nuggets contained significantly more microplastic particles per gram, researchers suggested that food processing could be a source of contamination.
Why is this study important?
This study adds to mounting evidence about the prevalence of microplastics in the natural environment and in our bodies. Research has already documented microplastics in water, fruits and vegetables, salt, sugar, rice, milk, and beer.
The World Health Organization recently released a report summarizing the body of research about the health impacts of microplastics. However, it says it’s still too early to make any real conclusions.
“While we still really don’t have any idea what the human health consequences of this are, if there are any at all, we need to take this seriously because this is a problem that’s not going away on its own, and it’s only going to get worse the more plastic we use and throw away,” George Leonard, one of the study’s authors and chief scientist at Ocean Conservancy, told The Washington Post.
What’s being done about microplastics?
That said, experts say that microplastics will persist in the environment if humans continue using plastics designed to last, The Washington Post reported.
“We have designed these materials to be persistent for centuries, if not millennia, so that should be regarded as a design flaw,” Paul Anastas, director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale University, told the publication. “We know how to design polymers that degrade harmlessly into the environment, not into smaller, smaller particles.”
Meanwhile, more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic are gaining traction. These include materials made of recycled seaweed and algae. Scientists have also discovered how to break down plastics before they become a problem by using hungry wax worms and fungus.
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