After Coca-Cola announced in March that its bottled Dasani water in Kenya contained microplastics, new research says microplastics are now ingested into the body through other means like the water we drink, or by eating polluted fishes. A study in France showed that many people have micro-plastics in their body tissues and have no clue, with the micro-plastics coming from the air we breathe.
Microplastics, or plastic fibres, are small pieces of plastic in the environment resulting from degradation and breakdown of plastic toxic waste. They are extremely small, usually unseen by the eye. and are also ingredients in health and beauty products. Unfortunately, this cannot be dissolved in the body. Due to their small sizes, they can also be inhaled, and are known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Of all plastics produced in the world annually, only about 9 percent get recycled, the rest are dispersed into the environment; air, land, water, as waste. Plastics become microplastics through fragmentation by heat, friction, or light. In Nigeria and other African countries where toxic waste, including plastics, are disposed of through burning, microplastics could be a real problem. A lack of recycling and waste management culture means the outdoor burning of plastic materials like nylons, car tires, cigarette filters, synthetic fibres etc. will be a major source of tiny pieces of microplastics becoming airborne.
However, the microplastics are more concentrated in indoor air than outdoor air, making them one of the most dangerous carcinogens. Furniture, toys, cosmetics, toothpaste, cosmetics are sources of microplastics in indoor air. They are also found in large quantities in floor dirt when they settle, and crawling babies are the most susceptible to ingesting microplastics indoors.
The biggest source of microplastics indoors is plastic fibres from synthetic clothing. Production of synthetic clothing rises by 6 percent yearly, with 90 million metric tons produced in 2016. This means that you have a high probability of ingesting microplastics when you come in contact with textile fibres.
Inhaled microplastics stay in the lung tissues, and since they cannot dissolve, tend to remain there for a long time. The longer the time spent in the lungs, the higher the risk of infections. Prolonged inhalation of microplastics have been known to cause problems; from limited lung capacity to lung cancer. And these airborne microplastics also carry microorganisms-bacteria, fungi- from the air, into the bloodstream through the lungs.
Unfortunately, there are not many concerted efforts in Africa to eliminate microplastics in the environment. Industrialized, populated cities situated near the coastline, like Lagos and Capetown, are more susceptible to their populations ingesting microplastics, with the latter being dumped in beaches and oceanfronts and also causing harm to marine life. Though countries like Morocco, Eritrea, Botswana and Kenya are battling this menace by prohibiting production, a lot still needs to be done. The sale and usage of plastic bags, in addition to the implementation of better policies will make our environments free of plastic waste.