Microplastics — the tiny pieces of plastic debris littering our planet — has been found in human poop, surprising nobody. The pilot study included 8 people from seven countries in Europe plus Japan. While the study was obviously very small, the researchers did discover waste plastic such as that from food wrappers and synthetic clothing in feces from all the participants. According to lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl of the University of Vienna, the study was too small to draw any huge conclusions but it does confirm what sadly was inevitable. From Laura Parker's feature in National Geographic:
"I'd say microplastics in poop are not surprising," says Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the effects of microplastics on fish. "For me, it shows we are eating our waste—mismanagement has come back to us on our dinner plates. And yes, we need to study how it may affect humans."
Every year, an average of eight million tons of plastic waste, most of it single-use varieties, flows into the world's oceans from coastal regions. There, sunlight and wave action break these waterborne plastics down into bits the size of grains of rice. Fibers from synthetic clothes such as polyester and acrylic make their way into freshwater systems via washing machines. You can see this in action with a fleece jacket; just scratching the arm of the jacket can shed invisible fibers. As a result, tiny plastic fragments and fibers have now spread all over the planet. They're in deep sea trenches and in the air we breathe.
Marine life—from the smallest plankton to the largest whales—eat these plastics, including those tiny enough to be considered microplastics. And encounters with plastics often prove fatal. So far, much of the research into the consequences of this spread has focused on birds and other animals. Microplastics have been found in more than 114 aquatic species, and studies have shown the potential damage to reproductive systems and the liver.
(Scwabl) says he hopes his findings will hasten research into the effects of microplastics on human health.
"Based on the research, it was highly likely that microplastics would be present in humans," he says. "But nobody ever investigated if microplastics also reach the human gut. Now this discussion can be taken up in humans."
image from: "What are microplastics?" (NOAA)