How To Avoid Microplastics
In honor of Earth Day I wanted to share a post I’ve been working on for a while. I talked a bit about microplastics in this Instagram post so I’d like to expand on it here. Microplastics are really small and contaminant plastic particles, less than 5 millimeters long. These types of plastic end up everywhere, our environment, our oceans, our bodies and even the air we breathe. While much is still unknown about the effects of microplastics, studies are beginning to show the risks they pose to human health.
The world has produced more than 10 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, and we just keep making more. Some of it may last for hundreds of years, and when it does break down, it can become small particles of plastic—microplastics—that spread farther across the planet, entering our water and food supply. Believe it or not, some of these tiny bits of plastic are made on purpose, to be used in beauty or personal hygiene products. Things like facial scrubs and toothpaste, microplastics are also added into cosmetic products to act as a stabilizer for compounds that do not naturally stick together. Countries are beginning to take steps to ban microbeads.
With more than 380 million tons of plastic being produced every year, it doesn’t come as a surprise that we are ingesting microplastics. So how do you limit your exposure to plastic? Here are some tips for avoiding microplastics in your daily life.
Bisphenol BPA and Phthalates are harmful plastics used in items we buy everyday. These plastics are harmful not only for the earth but for our bodies.
Recent studies have shown that some people consume a credit cards worth (5 grams) of microplastics each week. Yuck. This amount of microplastics being ingested each week is so unhealthy for our bodies.
One last thing I want to add, I really enjoyed this video from @greengirlleah about eco-anxiety and climate optimism. The headlines and realities of what is happening to our planet can lead one to feel a sense of hopelessness, but there are ways to help cope with those feelings. These are some good tips on how to manage eco-anxiety, don’t forget to practice self-care and remember that small changes can make a big impact.
How To Avoid Microplastics
Ditch the plastic water bottle and use a water filter:
Bottled water is major contributor to humans ingesting microplastics, and for the most part they never actually get recycled. Plastic water bottles are made from BPA (Bisphenol) and has been shown to have effects on the brain in children. There are so many great options for reusable water bottles including self-cleaning options and stainless steel. I use my Larq for travel and my Hydro Flask for everyday use. Reverse osmosis water filters have been shown as the most effective water filters for microplastics in water supply. There are countertop and zero installation options. Depending on where you live, tap water is also a great alternative to plastic water bottles. If you get your water from a well or you have a filter within your water system, go for tap! Ditching plastic water bottles will save you money too!
Use cloth bags for grocery shopping:
Single use plastic grocery bags are a hazard to marine life, our natural ecosystems, and the oceans. These bags also disintegrate into microplastics, potentially infiltrating our food and our bodies. Some states have introduced legislation to limit or ban plastic bags. I am grateful that they are banned here on Aquidneck Island and in Vermont state-wide. For a more eco-friendly option, bring cloth bags for your grocery shopping and errands. Also for lots of plastic free grocery options check out Public Goods.
Use a laundry ball or GUPPYFRIEND:
Believe it or not washing synthetic clothes contributes to microplastic pollution. One load of laundry can release about 1 million microplastic fibers through wastewater in plastic particles. Using a laundry ball or washing bag in your washing machines and it can help significantly reduce microplastic pollution during washing. Options include the Cora ball or the Guppyfriend which I use for washing my clothes with synthetic fabrics.
Another great option is air drying your clothes. Not only does it help avoid putting microplastics into the wastewater but it’s very eco-friendly!
Buy unpackaged fruits and veggies:
Plastic food packaging is still very much present in many supermarkets and food chains. The clear wrappings are not only unable to be recycled, they break down into microplastics. If you have access to a farmer’s market or CSA this can be a great way to cut down on single use plastics and produce. Look for loose produce in the grocery store vs things packaged in plastic when possible. I realize this can be really difficult and frustrating, as I encounter this challenge often when grocery shopping. I do the best I can, we all have different access and resources available to us when food shopping.
Eat less animal meat:
Research is finding microplastics in animals, especially those who hydrate off water sources near the oceans and those who inhabit them. Reducing consumption of meat and fish, as well as shellfish, can lessen consumption of microplastics. It is also a really effective way of reducing your carbon footprint. Scientists actually estimated the impact of dietary changes on greenhouse gas emissions and found “by 2050, dietary changes could reduce global CO2 emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year.”
Reduce purchasing synthetic clothing:
One of the most popular fabrics in fashion is also a major source of plastic pollution– synthetic fibers. Fabrics like nylon, spandex, and polyester rely on plastic production for their compounds and textiles. Consider shopping secondhand, purchasing form brands utilizing natural materials and/or buying from brands that use recycled materials when purchasing clothes with synthetic fabrics. And as mentioned above, use something like a Guppyfriend when washing those clothing items.
Use glass or silicone food storage
Products like plastic wrap and single use plastic bags are an easy thing to replace with reusable and more eco-friendly alternatives. I bought a set of glass containers for food storage and we use stasher bags instead of plastic baggies. Beeswax wrap is a great alternative to plastic wrap as it is not only reusable but it’s biodegradable.
Use plastic free cosmetics
For a while now I have been switching over to plastic free cosmetics. Microbeads are used in so many products, so be sure to check the labels on your cosmetics. If you see any of these products on the ingredients list they use microbeads: Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon. I like to shop with brands and distributors that I know follow ethical practices and value eco-friendly, sustainable products. Buying new products can be expensive so maybe slowly begin to buy updated plastic free cosmetics as you finish off your old products. Some of my favorite places to shop for products are Follain and Clean at Sephora.
How do you avoid microplastics?
Do you have any other tips, ideas or methods for avoiding microplastics? Let me know in the comments. I know it can at times feel daunting, but small changes can have a big impact.
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These are great and easy swaps! I’ve been researching the best dish cleaning tool (sponge, brush, etc) so that I’m not using any with microplastics. However, I’m having a hard time understanding the best way to dispose of certain ones or what to do with it once it’s run its course like the bamboo handle brushes or walnut shell sponges. Would love your insight to eco-friendly dish scrubbing options!
Bamboo can be composted, especially if broken into small pieces. The key is to make sure it is sustainably grown and not a further cause of habitat depletion. If the bristles are plastic, they can be plucked out and may be recyclable. I don’t believe that nylon bristles can be composted, but certain nylons can be recycled depending on where you live. Walnut shells are not compostable, but I believe the pop up sponges from Trader Joe’s are compostable cellulose, as an alternative. I’m sure there are others similarly made.
Excellent post. I appreciate your reminders that I need to be more conscious of what I use in my own life. I sometimes forget but you are helping me to stay in line. I am really disgusted because my area (here in Northern California) started using plastic bags again during Covid. When they had been banned for several years. I am now seeing 100’s plastic bags floating around everywhere in our environment, especially by the sides of the road. This makes me so angry. And prior to Covid I was hardly seeing any bags anymore. But this also makes me realize that even if I recycle the bag, this is still not enough. We need to do better.
I really appreciate this post, Jess. I’d love for you to keep sharing your sustainability swaps and products as you incorporate them, it’s really helpful! I’ve just bought the Cora Ball 🙂