More than 50 studies globally have discovered that on average, people could be ingesting about 5g of plastic weekly – from the air they breathe, the food they eat and especially the water they drink. This amount is equivalent to a credit card!
The study was commissioned by WWF and done by the University of Newcastle, and the research was the first to combine insights from studies all around the world.
The WWF, however, noted that the findings may be an underestimate because the microplastic contamination of staple food has yet to be studied and accounted.
“The current global approach to address the plastic is failing”, said the WWF.
WWF International director general Marco Lambertini urged the government to stop letting million tons of plastic to continue leaking into nature every year.
He also urged everyone in the government, business and consumer levels to act urgently. On top of that, he also proposed a global treaty with global targets to address plastic pollution.
Currently, the largest source of plastic ingestion is drinking water, with plastic found in water including tap water and bottled water globally.
Another key source is the consumption of shellfish, accounting for as much as 0.5g a week.
The research also noted that inhalation contributed a negligible proportion of microplastics entering the human body, even though it might vary, depending on the environment. Studies from 16 papers showed that indoor air is more plastic polluted than the outdoors due to the limited air circulation indoors and contributing sources of airborne microplastics from synthetic textiles and household dust.
Scientists are conducting further studies to obtain more precise information on the distribution and consumption of plastic particles. One such key research area is mapping the size and weight distribution of plastic waste particles and how plastic particles travel into muscle tissue after consumption.
Another key research area is determining the health effects of plastic ingestion on humans, which is not known yet.
The WWF called for governments to take greater action by “supporting further research, establishing a global scientific body to assess and synthesize the best available research on plastic and microplastic in nature, and agreeing to legally binding international treaty to stop plastic pollution from leaking into the oceans.”
Separately, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the economic impact of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems to be at least US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion) a year.
Luckily in Singapore, drinking water is free of microplastic.
At Singapore’s NEWater and desalination plants, microplastics are removed using reverse osmosis membranes. PUB also ensures that all used water, treated at the water reclamation plants, follows the international recognized discharge standards.
During the treatment process, microplastics are removed as sludge and incinerated from used water. After which, the bulk of the treated used water is further processed and reclaimed as NEWater. Hence, only a minute amount of microplastics is discharged into the sea, Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in Parliament in 2018.
Additionally, PUB is also looking into the incorporation of the membrane bioreactor technology in Singapore’s used water treatment process to improve the microplastics removal rate further.
Meanwhile, “the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will continue to monitor the international scientific developments on the issue of microplastics and implement appropriate measures to safeguard the health of our consumers when necessary”, said an SFA spokesman.
Everyone plays a part in reducing plastic waste. As consumers we can can reduce plastic usage. With a drop in the demand for plastic, companies will have to seek alternatives to heed consumers’ demands. Also, reuse and recycle the plastics you use as much as you can.