What does the latest science say about microplastic harm to our planet and human health?

Microplastics are everywhere: across the global food chain, inside us, and across all ecosystems

It’s no surprise that microplastics are all over the place. We’ve produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic, and 79% of it ends up in landfills or the environment. Even worse — global waste is estimated to triple by 2060, and only 0.25%-1% of plastics currently are biodegradable. The rest lasts tens to hundreds of years, breaking down into smaller and smaller microplastics over time which end up in every ecosystem, in our food chain, and in our own bodies.

We’re literally consuming our own trash, as Soleic’s CEO Dr. Steve Mayfield says.

We don’t know exactly how many microplastics are out there, but scientists have found them almost everywhere they’ve looked: from oceans to our soil, and in both land and marine animals. They’ve even been found in samples of ice from Antarctica! We’ve seen them in the intestines and tissues of fish, marine mammals, and livestock. Plastics get carried into our oceans from land via rivers, but also are deposited in the water by the fishing industry.

We’re breathing, drinking, and eating microplastics – and our bodies are not designed to cope with their accompanying chemicals

One thing we know for sure is that microplastics move across the food chain, and that their negative effects on human health are becoming clearer each year. As we breathe, drink water, and eat food contaminated with microplastics, they enter into our bodies. For a long time scientists thought that plastic particles were too large to pass through the barriers of plant tissue but now studies have shown that microplastics are in fact absorbed by the root systems of plants, so when we eat apples, carrots, and lettuce, we’re not only getting the vitamins and minerals from the fruits and vegetables, but also small doses of microplastics.

They can then accumulate: they’ve been found in testicles, human breast milk, and in human placentas in the form of PVC and polyethylene microplastics. In March 2024 scientists published a landmark article in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that microplastics were linked to a 400% increase in heart attacks and strokes compared to patients who did not have detectable microplastics in their arteries.

When studying the effects of microplastics on human cells in laboratory experiments, scientists have found that plastics can cause “tissue damage, allergic reactions, and even cell death.” Plastics also absorb toxins in the environment, and they can leach out endocrine disruptor chemicals (like BPA) into our bodies. Epidemiological studies have linked exposure to these chemicals to adverse health outcomes, due to their effects on messaging systems in the body.

With every new study we’re discovering further dangers of microplastics. That’s why we believe so strongly that we need to entirely shift our use of traditional petroleum-based plastics to new technology like Soleic materials, which biodegrade with zero persistent microplastic residue –  for our own health, the health of future generations, and for our ecosystems.

Further sources to dive deeper:

'The Plastics We Breathe' from The Washington Post

Plastic facts and figures from the Plastic Soup Foundation

Articles on microplastics from Info Hub Plastic

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