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  • Writer's pictureMary Shackelton, MPH, ND


Updated: May 10, 2023

Oh no more bad news??? Yep but it is nothing brand new: plastics are becoming an insurmountable health problem and they are showing up as a big player in adult and childhood health. There is plastic all around us: water bottles, chopping boards, food containers, shopping bags and now there is ample evidence that it is accumulating in our bodies as well.

Bits of water bottles, polystyrene packaging, microbeads from products turn into by definition a micro plastic (MP): less than 5 mm or the size of a grain of rice. When you visit a beach next time you will encounter micro plastics as they are washing up on every shore in the world often having a significant adverse impact on aquatic life— fish have been found to have more MP in their stomachs than digestible foods. Photos of sea turtles eating plastic bags have become the poster child of the environmental harm caused by humanity’s plastic waste. And it is impacting humans greatly.

Humans may experience oxidative stress, cytotoxicity, neurotoxicity, immune system disruption, and transfer of MPs to other tissues after being exposed to them. (

Synthetic clothing: the stretchy, comfy, practical, yoga-like items that seem to have become fashion itself, yep, those have contributed to our micro plastic problem greatly. MPs from textiles are called “microfibers” because of their shape. Labels on your clothing will reveal words like “polyester,” “nylon,” “polyamide,” “acrylic.” These are examples of plastic materials very commonly used in clothing, that end up in our water, our air — no place is out of reach.

But there is more even more worrying information: the plastics that you cannot see: they are called nano-plastics . These are invisible to the eye, they cross membranes between cells and have been observed to accumulate in the brains of fish. If this is happening to fish, surely we are in the same predicament?

Generally speaking; what is in the environment is in us also. What is most unsettling is not that aquatic life is suffering but there is nothing protecting us from the same influences in our own bodies also. Breast milk samples were taken from 34 healthy mothers, a week after giving birth in Rome, Italy. Microplastics were detected in 75% of them. Let’s not be shocked.... To be human is to contain plastic, apparently.

In another study, MPs were found in the placentas from four healthy women who had normal pregnancies and births. MPs were detected on both the fetal and maternal sides of the placenta and in the membrane within which the fetus develops. All the particles analyzed were plastics that had been dyed blue, red, orange or pink and may have originally come from packaging, paints or cosmetics and personal care products

( ) How can we expect a different outcome when plastic has become so relied upon for convenience?

Plastic is virtually immortal but is ironically increasing our own mortality. Extreme durability is what makes it most useful but is what also makes it such a problem. It lasts and lasts, difficult to degrade in sunlight and water. We can’t throw it away, other than out of our eye sight, it doesn’t go away. If someone doesn’t recycle it, it is there on some beach or in a landfill for a long time. It will show up in the food we eat and the water we drink. In fact, even the ability to recycle plastic is declining.

A recent Greenpeace report finds most plastic goes to landfills as production continues due to demand. This report also found that people may be putting plastic into recycling bins — but almost none of it is being recycled. Plastic “recycling” itself causes pollution due to the transportation of it across the ocean. Transported plastic “recycling” gets put on a ship and taken “away” but there is no “away”, it ends up in landfills and gets burned.

Of all the plastic created since mass production began (between The First and Second World Wars) more than 1/2 has been produced since 2000. We have an enormous appetite for plastic. Virtually impossible - no....literally impossible to avoid- think about the plastic key board you might be sitting at for example. Plastics are here to stay but how we chose to use them can impact our health and that of our planet. This is not going away. What can be done?

Here are a few ideas;

1. Purchase clothing that is not fast fashion and made out of natural fibers as much as possible. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle them too.

2. Avoid buying plastic anything... it is difficult but give it a good try... the practice itself will illuminate how much we are surrounded by plastics in all forms. (e.g. buy plastic lettuce that is not in a plastic tub).

3. Recycle toys by giving to another family who would use them. Purchase items that are made of wood, metal or other natural fibers.

4. Shopping bags and single use plastics such as water bottles, straws, cups, beverage containers are easy to avoid if you commit to having your own water bottle at all times handy.

5. Do a quick assessment of your personal products, what is extra, not necessary? All of the packaging for these products are likely going to end up somewhere and affect someone so try something in a more sustainable package.

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