The average person is consuming a credit card’s worth of plastic every week in products such as shellfish, beer and salt, new research has found.
People are consuming up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year, equivalent to around 250 grams a year or 5 grams each week, according to the study commissioned by WWF.
It found that the single largest source of plastic ingestion was through water, both bottled and tap, while high levels were also found in shellfish, beer and salt.
The study also identified large regional variations, with twice as much plastic found in water consumed in the USA or India, than in Europe or Indonesia.
Although the damaging impact of plastic on marine and terrestrial ecosystems via microplastic ingestion, entanglement and habitat destruction, is well established, less is known about the effect of plastic on human health.
Researchers said the study had helped provide an accurate calculation of ingestion rates for the first time. “Developing a method for transforming counts of microplastic particles into masses will help determine the potential toxicological risks for humans moving forward,” said Dr Thava Palanisami, project co-lead and microplastics researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, where the original study on which the WWF analysis was based was carried out.
WWF is calling for governments to step up and play a key role in ensuring the entire plastics supply chain is held accountable for the common goal of ending plastic pollution. It is also asking the public to support a global petition calling for a legally binding treaty on marine plastics pollution.
Footprint will be exploring the link between plastic and human health in more detail in an in-depth feature in July.