Microplastics are small plastic particles (less than 5mm in size) that enter the environment and water in a variety of ways. The main source of microplastics consumption is drinking water.
Microplastics enter water systems a number of ways, including surface run-off, wastewater, pollution and plastic water bottles. Once microplastics enter our water systems, they remain there and end up in our drinking water – both tap and bottled.
Concerningly, scientists have estimated that people could be consuming 5 grams of microplastic particles per week from bottled and tap water.
Bottled water contains x 22 more microplastic particles than tap water, and one study found that water from 93% of bottled water brands contained microplastic particles.
It’s important to remember that the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in a recent 2019 report that microplastics in tap and bottled water are not harmful at current levels.
However, they have urgently called for more research due to unknown effects on human health and have recommended a reduction in plastic use globally.
Scientists suspect microplastics pose a bigger risk to health than previously thought. Animal and in vitro studies suggest negative effects on inflammation and immunity.
Professor Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, also says that it’s unlikely to be good news for our gut microbiome.
As the diversity of our gut microbiome is linked with our immune health, this may have an impact on our overall health. Long-term effects are not clear, but studies are underway.
Although there are practical steps we can take to reduce our consumption of microplastics, a recent study from Brunel University found that the British public is largely unaware of what microplastics are and how their own usage of plastics effects microplastic consumption levels.
The recent discovery of microplastic pollution near the top of the highest mountain in Wales (Snowdon) is a ‘scary wake-up call’, according to environmentalists, and reinforces the need for greater public education.
Some practical ways to reduce your own microplastics consumption levels include using a refillable water bottle, avoiding single-use plastic items and supporting a ban on beauty, cosmetic and cleaning products that contain microplastics.
The type of water that you drink is down to personal preferences, with tap water being the cheapest option and a better option for the environment.
You could also consider using a ceramic water filter product to remove microplastics and other small contaminants from tap water. Products are available that you can add to your kitchen tap or work surface, or you could buy a water filter bottle.
By making a few small changes to the ways in which we drink water, we can reduce the amounts of microplastics entering the environment and water systems.
Harriet Smith is a registered dietitian and health writer working on a campaign with Doulton Water Filters to raise awareness of microplastics in water and potential implications for human health.