Microplastics end up in our bodies through the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe. The accumulation of microplastics in our environment is likely increasing our exposure to plastics. Microplastics have also been found in airborne particulate matter. The air in our homes also contains low concentrations of microplastics. Most of it probably comes from textiles such as clothes, carpets and curtains.

Microplastics in food

Measurable amounts of microplastics have been found in a variety of foods, including fish, sugar, salt and honey. They have also been found in fruit, vegetables, beer and drinking water. Plastic food packaging is one way microplastics can end up in our food.

How do plastics affect our health?

Microplastics have been found in human blood, lungs and placentas. Little is known about how microplastics affect our bodies. For example, it is still unclear if microplastic particles continue building up in the human body over a lifetime. We also do not know in which organs microplastics are most likely to end up, or the impact of substances which are added to or adhere to plastics. Researchers know more about how microplastics affect the bodies of animals. For example, large pieces can get stuck in their guts or cause them to choke. From what is known now, plastic particles may affect an animal’s breathing, movement and food absorption.

Assessing the risks of plastics

Until now, researchers mostly studied how microplastics affect human cells. The long-term influence of these effects on human health is not clear yet. Researchers have to assess the risks first, but this is difficult to do. We need more data about different types of plastics in our immediate surroundings and in the environment.
For example:

  • What is the composition of those plastics?
  • How large are the particles?
  • What kinds of micro-organisms adhere to plastic?
  • Which specific microplastics are humans and the environment exposed to, and to what extent?