People may be unknowingly ingesting as much as a credit card’s worth of PLASTIC every week

The average person could be ingesting 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic every week — the equivalent of a credit card — with drinking water being the largest source.

People worldwide swallow around five grams of microplastics per week, or around 250 grams a year, says the University of Newcastle’s No Plastic in Nature report.

The tiny particles of plastic pollution are being taken in through drinking water and various other consumable items.

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Drinking water is the largest contributor of microplastics, with the tiny particles found in bottled, tap, surface and groundwater all over the world (stock image)

Drinking water is the largest contributor of microplastics, with the tiny particles found in bottled, tap, surface and groundwater all over the world (stock image)

The study, commissioned by World Wildlife Fund, combines data from over 50 studies on the ingestion of microplastics, which are plastic particles under five millimetres in size.

Drinking water is the largest contributor, with the plastic particles found in bottled, tap, surface and groundwater all over the world.

Shellfish, beer and salt are the consumables with the highest recorded levels of plastic.

WWF International’s director general Marco Lambertini says the findings should serve as a wake-up call to governments.

‘Not only are plastics polluting our oceans and waterways and killing marine life — it’s in all of us and we can’t escape consuming plastics,’ he said in a statement.

‘Global action is urgent and essential to tackling this crisis.’

Researchers found that water in the United States and Lebanon had on average 4.8 and 4.5 fibres per 500 millilitres respectively, compared to 1.9 fibres per 500 millilitres in both Europe and Indonesia.

Since the year 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all preceding years combined, with a third ending up in nature, the report notes.

In 2016, around 100 million metric tonnes of plastic waste ended up in the natural world.

People worldwide swallow around five grams of microplastics per week, or around 250 grams a year, says the University of Newcastle's No Plastic in Nature report. The tiny particles of pollution are being taken in through drinking water and various other consumable items

People worldwide swallow around five grams of microplastics per week, or around 250 grams a year, says the University of Newcastle’s No Plastic in Nature report. The tiny particles of pollution are being taken in through drinking water and various other consumable items

Mr Lambertini said the issue was a global problem which could only be solved by addressing the root cause of plastic pollution.

‘If we don’t want plastic in our bodies, we need to stop the millions of tonnes of plastic that continue leaking into nature every year,’ he said.

‘In order to tackle the plastic crisis, we need urgent action at government, business and consumer levels, and a global treaty with global targets to address plastic pollution,’ he added 

WHAT CAN MICROPLASTICS DO TO THE HUMAN BODY IF THEY END UP IN OUR FOOD SUPPLY?

According to an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, our understanding of the potential human health effects from exposure to microplastics ‘constitutes major knowledge gaps.’ 

Humans can be exposed to plastic particles via consumption of seafood and terrestrial food products, drinking water and via the air. 

However, the level of human exposure, chronic toxic effect concentrations and underlying mechanisms by which microplastics elicit effects are still not well understood enough in order to make a full assessment of the risks to humans.

According to Rachel Adams, a senior lecturer in Biomedical Science at Cardiff Metropolitan University, ingesting microplastics could cause a number of potentially harmful effects, such as: 

  • Inflammation: when inflammation occurs, the body’s white blood cells and the substances they produce protect us from infection. This normally protective immune system can cause damage to tissues. 
  • An immune response to anything recognised as ‘foreign’ to the body: immune responses such as these can cause damage to the body. 
  • Becoming carriers for other toxins that enter the body: microplastics generally repel water and will bind to toxins that don’t dissolve, so microplastics can bind to compounds containing toxic metals such as mercury, and organic pollutants such as some pesticides and chemicals called dioxins, which are known to causes cancer, as well as reproductive and developmental problems. If these microplastics enter the body, toxins can accumulate in fatty tissues. 

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