You may be consuming microplastics just by putting salt in your food. Disturbing? You bet.
Microplastics have been contaminating sea salt. This means you may be consuming microplastics just by putting salt in your food. Disturbing? You bet.
Each year some 10 million tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans. That amount, the United Nations says, is so massive that it equals dumping the contents of a garbage truck into the sea every single minute. Plastic pollution isn’t just unsightly. It’s harming or killing vast numbers of seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals and fish.
To make matters worse, much of that plastic consists of minute microplastics, which are often used in cosmetics, or is of a kind that disintegrates into small pieces. These small plastic particles then get into the food chain because fish feed on them unwittingly and we feed on fish in turn, thereby ingesting increasing quantities of plastic in the process.
But it gets worse. Researchers found that not only are plastics ubiquitous in seafood, but they are also ever-present in the salt we use to flavor our meals. According to Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York, citizens of the US consume more than 660 particles of plastic each year by using salt available in stores. And because we tend to use lots of salt in our dishes, we end up ingesting more and more plastics.
Recently a group of scientists did tests on 17 types of commercially available salt from eight countries. They, too, found extensive plastic contamination in salts. To wit: all their samples save for one contained plastic particles, especially from polyethylene and polypropylene.
“Out of the 72 extracted particles, 41.6% were plastic polymers, 23.6% were pigments, 5.50% were amorphous carbon, and 29.1% remained unidentified,” they wrote in a study. “The particle size (mean ± SD) was 515 ± 171 μm. The most common plastic polymers were polypropylene (40.0%) and polyethylene (33.3%). Fragments were the primary form of MPs (63.8%) followed by filaments (25.6%) and films (10.6%).”
What health effects, if any, the consumption of tiny plastic particles can have on us remains uncertain. Yet consuming larger amounts of plastic will hardly do us any good. Yet consume plastics we will continue to do. Plastic particles are now heavily present in our tap water too. And so there you have it: we eat seafood contaminated with microplastics; we season our meals with salt contaminated with microplastics; and we wash it all down with water contaminated with microplastics.