Approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, and it can be found in everything from the clothing that we wear to the technology that we use on an hourly basis. It is safe to assume that plastic can be found everywhere, but have you stopped to wonder if it can also be found in food or even the air? Well, according to a study published by Environmental Science & Technology, many of us have been consuming more than 70,000 particles of plastic every year.

Breaking Down the Study

Jamesboy Nuchaikong/Shutterstock

Spearheaded by University of Victoria’s Ph.D. candidate Kieran Cox, the study focuses on the consumption of microplastics through drinking water, eating food, and inhalation. It pointed out that microplastics can be found throughout almost every ecosystem; however, there have been very few studies that show how much of those particles we are exposed to.

The Numbers Add Up

Tadamichi/Shutterstock

Cox’s study was drawn from just over 400 points of data from 26 similar studies. According to it, “The average American consumes somewhere between 74,000 and 121,000 microscopic pieces of plastic every year,” and here’s how it breaks down:

  • 40,000 – 50,000 are eaten as a part of a regular diet
  • 20,000 – 80,000 are inhaled from the air

Researchers also noted that these numbers vary from person to person and are more prominently featured in certain populations. For example, people who drink bottled water as opposed to tap ingest more microplastic than tap drinkers.

Where Is It and How Does It Affect the Body?

Vectorfusionart/Shutterstock

Most of the microplastics ingested are found in seafood, the air, and bottled water. There are also small amounts in salt and sugar, and a bit less in beer and tap water. When it comes to vegetables, grains, beef, or poultry, there is little to no data suggesting that microplastics can be found in them.

In her study, Kieran Cox concluded that the effects of microplastics on the body are unknown. The microplastic phenomenon is fairly new, and scientists are only just beginning to understand how these particles get into and move through the environment.

The studies, which laid the foundation for Cox’s study, focused on the amount of microplastic in the environment, but not the amount consumed. Therefore, the results of this study can prove to be useful for other researchers, specifically those looking into the effects of microplastic particles on the body.

For those worried about their microplastic consumption, Cox’s advice is to drink less bottled and more tap water. Avoiding seafood may also help, but otherwise, there is little that anyone can do about the microplastic particles in the air.