(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Plastic particles have quickly become a part of our diets, unbeknownst to us, according to a new University of Victoria study.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that come from the degradation of larger plastic products or the shedding of particles from water bottles, plastic packaging and synthetic clothes.

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These particles are under five millimetres in diameter and it turns out, humans have been consuming tens of thousands of them every year, either in the food we eat or through the air we breathe.

“Human reliance on plastic packaging and food processing methods for major food groups such as meats, fruits and veggies is a growing problem,” says Kieran Cox, a marine biology PhD candidate in UVic Biologist Francis Juanes’ lab.

“Our research suggests microplastics will continue to be found in the majority—if not all—of items intended for human consumption. We need to reassess our reliance on synthetic materials and alter how we manage them to change our relationship with plastics.”

Cox co-authored this study with other scientists at UVic, Hakai Institute, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

More research necessary

Cox and his research team analyzed the amount of microplastics in fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, alcohol, water and air, which accounts for 15 per cent of Americans’ caloric intake.

After studying the amounts of these foods people ate based on their age, sex and dietary recommendations, they were able to deduce that the average person consumes between 70,000 and 121,000 particles per year, with rates rising up to 100,000 for those who drank only bottled water.

The majority of research thus far on the health impacts of microplastics in food has been focused on seafood.

However, this new study indicates that further analysis of microplastics particularly in major food groups like beef, poultry, dairy, and grains, is required in order to understand the broader issue of plastic pollution.

More research is also needed to determine the health impacts of consuming such amounts of plastic.

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