The word microplastics is increasingly on our agenda. These small pieces of plastic that can enter our bodies through our food, drinks or even the air we breathe, are becoming the subject of more clear evidence that their exposure can cause oxidative stress, inflammation and even DNA damage.
The real impact of microplastics on health is unknown
Now, a research team led by Sichuan University in China has found that drinking just one cup of takeaway coffee per week could expose a person to more than 90,000 microplastic particles each year.
The researchers found microplastics in all three main types of takeout cups. A single cup released almost 1,500 particles after five minutes of exposure, and the microplastics detached from the plastic wall of the cup and fell into the liquid inside.
Most of the microplastic pieces in the study were less than 50 micrometers, about the diameter of a human hair. Regarding the types of cups used, they were: polypropylene or PP, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene (PE).
The glasses with the most microplastics
They filled each of the types of plastic cups with 400 ml of water; they sealed them with aluminum foil to prevent airborne microplastics from entering the beaker, and then shook them for a minute. As control vessels, they used clean glass beakers used as reference points to correct for possible contamination from the procedure. The results found that the number of microplastic particles in the water reached between 723 and 1,489 particles/cup after five minutes.
The glasses that had the most microplastics were those made of polypropylene, which is quite worrying, considering the widespread use of these materials around the world.
“Based on the results, we estimate that people may unknowingly ingest between 37,613 and 89-294 microplastics per year due to the use of a plastic cup every 4 to 5 days. Considering the potential harm of microplastics, microplastic contamination resulting from the use of plastic beverage cups needs to be taken seriously,” the authors warned.
The threat of microplastics looms ever closer to human health. We have already found microplastics in the bloodstream of volunteers, and microplastics have been found in placentas, newborn babies, breast milk, lungs, hearts, kidneys and brains, with -for now- unknown consequences.
Referencia: Guanyu Zhou, Qidong Wu, Peng Tang, Chen Chen, Xin Cheng, Xin-Feng Wei, Jun Ma, Baicang Liu,
How many microplastics do we ingest when using disposable drink cups?,
Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 441, 2023, 129982, ISSN 0304-3894,