This blog was last updated on 11/8/2022.
Plastic is all around us — and your workplace is no exception. However, many are unaware that most plastic requires anywhere from 100 to 400+ years to break down, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And when it comes time for that plastic to degrade, it won’t simply decompose. It will break down into tiny versions of itself called microplastics, thanks to environmental factors like ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and ocean waves.
Scientists have discovered microplastics in practically every corner of the world and most bodies of water, including in drinking water sources like lakes, rivers, and groundwater. It’s, therefore, no surprise that traces of plastic are now showing up in humans and animals as well.
The good news is you’re not defenseless against microplastics in your workplace drinking water. Read on to learn more about microplastics and how you can keep these tiny plastic particles out of your water supply at work.
Everything You Need To Know About Microplastics in Water
Plastic particles less than 5 millimeters (5,000 microns) in diameter are considered microplastics. However, these tiny particles are divided into 2 categories:
1. Primary microplastic particles
Primary microplastics, often called microbeads, are intentionally manufactured and are key ingredients in scrubs, hand washing soaps, cleansers, toothpaste, and biomedical products. The National Ocean Service reports these plastic microbeads are typically made of polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), or polyethylene (PE). As early as 2015, several countries banned microbeads from rinse-off cosmetics including Canada, France, India, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. By 2020, Ireland, Italy, India, and Thailand all introduced bans as well, according to a report from Sidley — which is paving the way for more to follow.
2. Secondary microplastics
Secondary microplastics are created through the breakdown of any piece of plastic litter — including a plastic bottle, plastic bag, plastic straw, plastic container, and more. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and natural forces from the environment inevitably work together to break plastic waste down into smaller versions of itself, according to Nature.
Download Our Microplastics in Water Infographic
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Microplastics in Tap Water
Microplastics enter tap water and drinking water in various ways. The 2 main sources of microplastic pollution in drinking water are surface run-off (e.g., after a rain event) and wastewater effluent (water that flows out of a treatment plant, sewer, or industrial outfall). According to the World Health Organization, fewer overflows, industrial waste, degraded plastic waste, and atmospheric deposition — when gases move from the atmosphere to the Earth’s surface — can also result in microplastics in drinking water.
Moreover, these microplastics have, unfortunately, been found to be pervasive in tap water. A study from Orb Media, which tested water samples from more than a dozen nations, found that 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers. It was also discovered that the United States had the highest contamination rate, with 94% plastic fibers found in the sampled tap water.
Microplastics in Bottled water
For organizations in pursuit of clean workplace drinking water, you might be tempted to trade in your faucet for bottled water. But not so fast! Look past a water bottle label, and you’ll find tiny specs of plastic floating inside your container.
Most research shows that people who drink bottled water ingest more microplastic than people who drink tap water. In fact, a study published in Frontiers in Chemistry examined the water inside 259 water bottles sold in several countries and found that 93% of them contained microplastics. Some of those plastics could be seen with the naked eye! This means bottled water or hefty gallon jugs may not be the workplace drinking water solution you were looking for.
Despite all the evidence that shows microplastics are ubiquitous in bottled water, a 2021 Culligan Global World Water Day Survey, conducted by Toluna, revealed that 1/3 of respondents believe bottled water doesn’t contain microplastics and another 32% don’t know whether it does — making it essential to keep in mind moving forward.
The Impact of Microplastics on Your Employees’ Health
According to doctors from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there are many types of plastics that contain a variety of chemicals with different properties, such as plasticizers, antioxidants, and colorants. Several types of chemicals found in plastics are considered worrisome because they have been shown to negatively impact people who are exposed to them over long periods of time. Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are among the more troubling chemicals found in many plastics. Those substances are endocrine disruptors capable of interfering with hormone activity.
Researchers have found a correlation between plastic chemicals and adverse health outcomes including:
- Heart disease
- Neural disorders
- Reproductive problems
Leveraging drinking water solutions that contain microplastics can have considerable health effects on your valuable team members — which ultimately impacts your operational efficiency and productivity. Because of this, organizations are quickly turning to alternative water sources that are cleaner and more likely to drive hydration.
The Advantages of Offering Workers a Cleaner Water Supply
Choosing a water supply that mitigates the risk of long-term microplastic exposure in your workforce will help your organization see a number of advantages as a result. The benefits of providing cleaner workplace drinking water include:
- Supporting the health and well-being of your employees, guests, and customers.
- Driving hydration throughout your organization.
- Helping your workforce reach their maximum potential, as a result of feeling their best.
- Improving your employees’ focus, energy levels, and mental clarity as their daily water intake increases.
- Reducing long-term absenteeism across the corporate ladder.
- Elevating your sustainability practices by avoiding single-use plastic.
- Bringing your organizational productivity and efficiency to the next level.
Protect Your Workplace From Microplastics With a Bottleless Water Cooler From Quench
You can take action to limit the amount of plastic your employees, guests, and customers ingest by avoiding bottled water, reducing your plastic waste, and providing clean, delicious filtered water. Tackle all 3 of those solutions with one machine — a Quench filtered water cooler.
Quench filtered water coolers are designed for businesses interested in protecting their employees and visitors from dangerous contaminants in water and protecting the environment from plastic waste and carbon emissions. A Quench Q-Series water cooler that makes quenchWATER+ with reverse osmosis (RO) filtration can help safeguard you and your co-workers from microplastics in drinking water. Quench Q-Series water coolers with RO technology feature a 5-filter setup filtration system, including:
- A sediment filter removes anything larger than 10 microns.
- A pre-carbon filter that removes anything larger than 5 microns.
- An RO filter that pushes molecules through a semipermeable membrane of pore size 0.0001 microns against its natural concentration gradient.
Since microplastics are less than 5000 microns, RO filters like the ones featured in Quench Q-Series water coolers can effectively remove most microplastics larger than 0.0001 microns from your tap water. The quenchWATER+ filtration system even adds back hydrating minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium — so you can rest assured it tastes great, too.
If you aren’t familiar with the micron measurement, check out our quenchWATER+ filtration chart below for size reference.
Click HERE to download our quenchWATER+ filtration chart.
Limiting plastic intake also involves reducing your plastic output. A large portion of plastic use happens in the work environment, and a Quench filtered water cooler offers a great plastic-free solution for businesses looking to reduce their environmental footprint. In fact, one Quench water cooler can keep 7,000 plastic bottles and 150 plastic jugs out of the environment every year. Reducing your organization’s overall plastic consumption translates to fewer microplastics in water, food, and air. And most importantly, fewer microplastics in your body.
Explore our range of bottleless water dispensers or try our product finder to discover the machine that’s right for your workplace. Once you’re ready for delicious, clean water with fewer microplastics, you can get a free quote to get started.
Did you get all that? Take our quiz below to test your knowledge about microplastics in drinking water.