Original post by Sangeeta Waldron in for JustMeans
In the first public scientific study of its kind, research by Orb Media, with a researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, shows the shocking extent of plastic contamination in tap water of cities around the world. Plastic fibers are flowing out of taps from New York to New Delhi, according to this exclusive study. More than 80% of the samples collected on five continents tested positive for the presence of plastic fibers, known as microplastics—tiny plastic fibers and fragments which have infested the world’s drinking water. Microplastics have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals.
Scientists say these microscopic fibers might originate from the everyday use of clothes, upholstery and carpets. They could reach our household taps by contaminating local water sources, or are in the treatment and distribution systems. But no one knows exactly, and no specific procedures exist as yet for filtering or containing them.
However, one thing is clear: everyone is being affected, from advanced economies like the US to women, children, men and babies living in the developing world. Experts believe that if these plastic fibers have found their way into our water systems, then these fibers must be in our food as well — baby formula, pasta, soups and sauces. A forthcoming study says it’s likely they will also be found in craft beer, too.
Plastic is indestructible and isn’t biodegradable. Instead, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself – down to particles in nanometer scale: one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter. Studies show particles of that size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs. There are some ways around the world, working to tackle this grim global reality, such as the waste-to-energy initiative, which turns plastic and organic waste into gas and liquid fuel using a variety of technologies.
The global waste-to-energy market is forecast to grow into a USD$33 billion industry by 2023. In the Circular Economy, manufacturers and designers ensure that packaging and materials can be easily recycled and repurposed. Leading brands and new startups are working to design synthetic fabrics that won’t shed fibers into the air and water. Bolt Threads, in California, uses proteins from spider silk to create a strong, stretchy fabric they hope will replace synthetic fleece. And a Japanese company, Spiber, also plans to serve the outdoor apparel industry through spider silk.
However, each of these solutions depends on us as individuals— including companies and government—to take responsibility for the plastic waste generated. From skipping plastic bags that can survive up to 500 years in the oceans to losing straws—the most prevalent pieces of marine pollution—to using toothbrushes made from natural materials like flax or bamboo, we can start to cut down on the bad effects of plastics.