Look up from your screen for a moment and take in your surroundings. How many pieces of plastic did you spot? If you’re reading this blog from a computer or smartphone, you’re probably touching plastic right this moment.
Most plastic requires anywhere from 100 to 400+ years to break down. That means all the plastic surrounding you right now will still be on this planet long after you are. And when it comes time for that plastic to degrade, it won’t simply decompose like a banana peel in a compost pile. 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 drinking water. Read on to learn more about microplastics and how you can keep microplastics out of the environment and your body.
Microplastic Particles Can Be Divided Into 2 Categories
Primary Microplastic Particles
Plastic particles less than 5 millimeters (5000 microns) in diameter are considered microplastics. Primary microplastic particles (often called microbeads) are intentionally manufactured and are key ingredients in scrubs, handwashing soaps, cleansers, toothpastes, and biomedical products. Those microbeads can be made of polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), or polyethylene (PE). Several countries have banned microbeads from rinse-off cosmetics, including Canada, France, India, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
Secondary microplastics are created through the breakdown of plastic litter like plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws, and more. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and natural forces from the environment work together to break plastic waste down into smaller versions of itself. Both primary and secondary microplastics are equally harmful to the environment.
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Microplastics in Tap Water
Microplastics enter drinking water in various ways. The two 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). Sewer 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.
Microplastics have been found to be pervasive in water. In 2017, scientists for an investigation by Orb Media tested water samples from more than a dozen nations and found 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers. Moreover, the study found that the United States had the highest contamination rate, with 94% plastic fibers found in the sampled tap water.
Microplastics in Bottled Water
At this point, you might be tempted to trade in your faucet for bottled water. After all, there’s something so reassuring about a label that reads, “100% natural spring water.” But not so fast! Look past the label, and you might find tiny specs of plastic floating around the inside of your container. Most research shows that people who drink bottled water ingest more microplastic than people who drink tap water. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Chemistry examined the water inside 259 bottled waters sold in several countries and found that 93% of them contained microplastics. Some of those plastics could be seen with the naked eye!
Despite all the evidence that shows microplastics are ubiquitous in bottled water, a 2021 Culligan Global World Water Day Survey, conducted by Toluna, revealed 1/3 of respondents believe bottled water doesn’t contain microplastics and another 32% do not know whether it does.
Microplastics In Food and Air
The average person consumes 5 grams of plastic per week. That’s about the size of a credit card! And not all that plastic is coming from your drinking water. Some of it is coming from the food you eat and the air you breathe. Microplastics are frequently found in fruits and vegetables, salt, and fish. Plastic particles have even been detected in the air we breathe. Microplastics have been found floating in the air of even some of the most desolate places on earth, including the Sahara Desert, the Pyrenees Mountains, and many United States National Parks.
Impact of Microplastics on 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 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 chemical found in many plastics. Those substances are endocrine disrupters capable of interfering with hormone activity.
Researchers have found a correlation between plastic chemicals and adverse health outcomes like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as cancer, neural disorders, and reproductive problems. There is also evidence in animals and lab tissues that suggest pregnant females may pass microplastics to unborn offspring.
All that said, there is still a lot unknown about the implications of microplastics on human and animal health. The World Health Organization (WHO) told NPR there is not enough evidence to conclude microplastics pose any risk to human health. Yet, the WHO also cautioned more research is needed to draw firm conclusions.
Protecting Yourself From Microplastics
Microplastics in water, air, and food might be difficult to avoid entirely. Yet, you can still take action to limit the amount of plastic you ingest by avoiding bottled water, reducing your plastic waste, and drinking filtered tap water. You can 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 that removes anything larger than 10 microns, a pre-carbon filter that removes anything larger than 5 microns, and 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.
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. Therefore, changes you advocate for in the workplace will have significantly more impact on your personal plastic footprint than changes you make at home. A Quench filtered water cooler offers a great plastic-free solution for businesses looking to reduce their plastic footprint. One Quench water cooler can keep 7,000 plastic bottles and 150 plastic jugs out of the environment every year. Reducing your overall plastic consumption translates to fewer microplastics in water, food, and air. And most importantly, fewer microplastics in your body. Click here to learn more about our filtration advantages and see which product is right for you.
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