Most of us have tasted plastic when we bite into our favourite ice cream bar. But how many of us know that daily drinking water bottles contain plastic? The recent findings of a study published in Frontiers in Chemistry should make us reconsider our consumption habits.
The study confirmed that more than 90% contained microplastic in water bottles. Even more concerning is that we can see them with our naked eyes. There is real concern that discarded plastic may be polluting our drinking water. But what exactly is microplastic, and how worried should you really be?
Microplastics are microscopic fragments of plastic that have decomposed from bigger plastic components. The most common types include microbeads in personal care products like facial scrubs, toothpaste, and soap; microfibers from clothing; and microfibers from synthetic fabrics like polyester. These tiny pieces of plastic range from 1 millimetre to 5 millimetres long.
Sherri Mason, a researcher at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, analyzed 259 bottled drinking water from several countries. She concluded that more than 90% contained synthetic polymer particles. 11 of the samples are among the popular brands worldwide, and she found out that over 300 particles are present per litre of bottled water. This finding generated headlines for World Health Organization (WHO) and calls for further investigation regarding drinking water safety.
In another research headed by Phoebe Stapleton, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University, it was found that microplastic contamination is present in U.S. groundwater. She further said that microplastics enter our body through ingestion and inhalation and can enter our bloodstream and organs. Even worse, pregnant women can pass the chemicals to unborn offspring.
“Unfortunately, we do not currently know the toxicological outcomes of these exposures,” Stapleton added.
Frederick Vom Saal, emeritus professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, remarked that plastics and chemical pollutants could lead to toxic effects, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, reproductive problems, and neural problems. Then he concluded that people should modify their plastics management techniques in light of our studies.
The truth is that there are several ways microplastics can end up in water bottles. A primary source of microplastics is the manufacturing process, which can release microfibers into the air and water during production. For example, when plastic bottles are recycled and melted down for reuse, tiny plastic particles can escape into the air or water.
Microplastics may be part of the packaging itself — for example, if food or beverage companies use materials like polypropylene for their packaging that contain tiny pieces of plastic that break off over time as they’re used or handled.
Mason’s research demonstrates that tap water, beer, and sea salt contain plastic pollution. She also discovered that the majority of microplastic in water bottles were pieces of polypropylene, a plastic-type used to produce water bottle tops. This indicates that bottling the water was the primary source of plastic pollution. Another factor is the frequency with which consumers purchase bottled water. In the United States alone, 50 million plastic bottles are purchased annually.
Mason recommended that instead of spending too much money on regular plastic bottle purchases, we could adopt reusable bottles and invest the money in water infrastructure so that everyone has access to water that is three times cleaner.
Plastic is everywhere, and it’s not good for you in many cases. It can leach chemicals into your body, especially if you eat food out of plastic containers or store food in plastic containers. Here are proven tips on how to reduce plastic in drinkable water:
Microplastic in water bottles is a problem we may have to deal with in the future. For now, it is something that we can be aware of and try our best to prevent. Consumers will remain sceptical until a greater demand for non-plastic water bottles is met, hopefully forcing the industry to look into more eco-friendly alternatives.
These developments should continue to be watched as they could affect the public’s perception of water bottles and other plastic packaging in the near future.
Browse the I’m Plastic Free directory to discover plastic pollution solutions.