Are microplastics harmful

Are microplastics harmful to my body?

#Plastic on 09/03/2019 updated on 01/20/2020

Microplastics are a major burden for the environment. We also take it in small doses every day. How dangerous is that and how can microplastics be avoided?

What is microplastic?

Microplastics are particles made of plastic that are smaller than five millimeters and are not biodegradable. Since they are so small, we can barely see them. They are contained, for example, in peeling, shower gel or shampoo and also in decorative cosmetics. Microplastics are also found in clothing as synthetic fibers such as polyester and dissolve with every wash. It also occurs when larger plastic products such as bottles or bags disintegrate and when car tires wear off. "Tire abrasion actually accounts for the largest share in the formation of microplastics," explains Dr. Andreas Köhler, environmental researcher at the Öko-Institut in Freiburg.

Why is microplastic harmful to the environment?

Microplastics first get through the sewage system into sewage treatment plants and some of them into our rivers and finally into the sea. “Wastewater treatment can only filter out these particles to a limited extent. Since plastic degrades extremely slowly, if at all, it remains in the water and cannot be retrieved, ”explains the environmental researcher. The smallest particles have already been detected in worms, mussels, plankton, birds or larger fish and marine mammals. This means that microplastics also end up on our plates via the natural food chains.

Are microplastics harmful to me?

It has not yet been clarified whether microplastics are harmful to humans. "It could be that we eliminate it again, but the research is still in its infancy," says the expert. On the other hand, it is unhealthy if other substances are added to the plastic, such as bisphenol A (BPA). It was only added to the list of substances of very high concern in the EU in January 2017 because of its harmful effects on the endocrine system. Until mid-2011, for example, it was added to the manufacture of baby bottles. BPA is still found in the coating of food cans, drinks cans and many other plastic products. In addition, the tiny plastic particles react like a magnet to pollutants and bind pesticides and other environmental toxins to themselves.

How does it get into the body?

“We cannot absorb the particles through the skin. We breathe them in in the form of dust or swallow them, ”explains the expert. This means that microplastics in cosmetics are probably not the greatest danger to people, but they are bad for the environment. But that we ingest microplastics has meanwhile been proven. About five grams per week - as much as a credit card weighs, according to a study by the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Microplastics are caused by abrasion from car tires, clothing or plastic products and are produced industrially for cosmetics and detergents.

It ends up in the wastewater and is only partially filtered by sewage treatment plants.

Microplastics end up in the sea through surface water and rivers, where marine animals ingest them with their food.

Fish contaminated with microplastics is being sold.

We eat the fish and the microplastics they ingest.

How do I recognize microplastics in cosmetic products?

It is often difficult to tell whether a product contains microplastics or not. The currently most common plastics in cosmetics and their abbreviations are:

PE Polyethylene
PP Polypropylene PET Polyethylene terephthalate Nylon-12 Nylon-12 Nylon-6 Nylon-6 PURE Polyurethane AC Acrylates copolymer ACS Acrylates cross polymer PA Polyacrylate PMMA Polymethyl methacrylate PS Polystyrene PQ Polyquaternium

Source: Purchasing guide, Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND)

How can I avoid microplastics?

  • Drive less car. This will reduce the abrasion of plastic.
  • Avoid synthetic clothing made of polyester, polyamide, polyacrylic, nylon, elastane or microfiber. Alternatively, you can wash clothing made of synthetic fibers in a special wash bag that catches the fiber abrasion.
  • Check the list of ingredients in your cosmetic products for microplastic components or use certified natural products. These are basically made without microplastics.
  • Avoid clothing, decorative items or cosmetics with glitter. Most glitter products contain microplastics.

The fact is: Anyone who wants to avoid microplastics must generally reduce the consumption of tires and plastic products. “We just have to consume less and repair and use the things we have for as long as we can. Reducing waste is what it's all about and that is only possible if we use less, ”says the environmental researcher.

Detecting microplastics: useful tools for product checks

With the free “CodeCheck” app you can find out when shopping whether products contain microplastics. To do this, simply scan the barcode of food or cosmetic items. The app shows you which ingredients are in it. Also interesting if you want to avoid palm oil, parabens or too much sugar.

Google play
Apple Store

From toothpaste to facial care to nail polish: The shopping guide from the Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation in Germany (BUND) lists all current cosmetic products that contain microplastics or other plastics. In this guide you will find the exact designation of the products and the respective type of plastic. Ideal for taking stock of your own cosmetics cabinet.

Download buying guide

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