by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Plastics

Jun 27 2024

Microplastics are where? Oops.

If you haven’t been worried about microplastics in your body, perhaps this study will get your attention.

Here’s the abstract:

Its alarming conclusion:

The detection of MPs in penile tissue raises inquiries on the ramifications of environmental pollutants on sexual health.
Our research adds a key dimension to the discussion on man-made pollutants, focusing on MPs in the male reproductive system.

Everyone is worried about the decline in male sperm counts.  Could endocrine disrupting plastics be a cause?  If so, it’s time to get serious about cleaning them up and not producing more.

May 3 2024

Weekend reading: microplastics and nanoplastics

Here’s something I haven’t yet written about but I’m seeing so much on the topic that it’s due.

Microplastics are small (5 millimeters and much, much smaller) particles that come off of plastic containers, wrappings, and waste.  They are now everywhere and in everything, including oceans, water supplies, food, animals, and us.

Not nearly enough is known about their effects, but early signs are not reassuring.

Some examples:

Bottled water can contain thousands of particles of nanoplastics, research suggests:  Microplastics, which research suggests could be harmful to human health, are well-known infiltrators of a wide variety of food and beverages. Now, researchers have found that nanoplastics, the even smaller offspring of microplastics, are present in stratospheric quantities in bottled water, unbeknownst to us until now…. Read more

Plastic chemicals linked to $249 billion in US health care costs in 2018 alone, study finds: By contributing to the development of chronic disease and death, a group of hormone-disruptive plastic chemicals is costing the US health care system billions — over $249 billion in 2018 alone, a new study found.

Should We Care That We’re Drinking Nanoplastics? A new study this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science tells us that every bottle of water we’re drinking has hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics….Nanoplastics and microplastics are not innocuous, but their risks are poorly understood. They come with chemicals that can be endocrine disruptors and contribute to obesity.

How Plastic Can Harm Your Health: Plastic is everywhere—even in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. CR’s [Consumer Reports’] recent tests of nearly 100 foods found two types of chemicals used in plastic, bisphenols and phthalates, in a wide variety of packaged foods.

Everything you need to know about plastic pollution:This year’s World Environment Day – the fiftieth iteration of the annual celebration of the planet – is focusing on the plastic pollution crisis. The reason? Humanity produces more than 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste, filling the ocean and, often, working their way into the human food chain.

Plastic food packaging contains harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals, study confirms: Many plastic food contact materials – plastics that are used in the processing and packaging of food – contain toxic chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system and metabolism, according to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

MicroplasticsIn January 2019, ECHA [European Chemicals Agency] proposed a wide-ranging restriction on microplastics in products placed on the EU/EEA market to avoid or reduce their release to the environment. A consultation on the restriction proposal was organised from March to September 2019….The proposal is expected to prevent the release of 500 000 tonnes of microplastics over 20 years.

Comment: We should be looking hard at similar restrictions and at methods for reducing use of plastics and phasing them out. This won’t be easy, as discussed in: Microplastic regulation should be more precise to incentivize both innovation and environmental safety.  Is this one more food issue we need to be worried about?  I think it is.

Apr 7 2022

Plastics in agrifood systems: a big problem, getting worse

This is not just about plastic particles in soil and in the ocean.  It’s about microplastics in us.

See:  Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood. 

Plastic particles are ubiquitous pollutants in the living environment and food chain but no study to date has reported on the internal exposure of plastic particles in human blood. …In this study of a small set of donors, the mean of the sum quantifiable concentration of plastic particles in blood was 1.6 µg/ml, showing a first measurement of the mass concentration of the polymeric component of plastic in human blood.

As for plastics in the environment, a news release from the FAO announced a new report: “Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability: a call for action.

According to data collated by the agency’s experts, agricultural value chains each year use 12.5 million tonnes of plastic products. A further 37.3 million tonnes are used in food packaging. The crop production and livestock sectors were found to be the largest users, accounting for 10.2 million tonnes per year collectively, followed by fisheries and aquaculture with 2.1 million tonnes, and forestry with 0.2 million tonnes.

According to the report, the benefits of plantics are enormous—and that’s a big part of the problem.

In agriculture, plastic products greatly help productivity. Mulch films, for instance, are used to cover the soil to reduce weed growth, the need for pesticides, fertilizer and irrigation; tunnel and greenhouse films and nets protect and boost plant growth, extend cropping seasons and increase yields; coatings on fertilizers, pesticides and seeds control the rate of release of chemicals or improve germination; tree guards protect young seedlings and saplings against damage by animals and provide a microclimate that enhances growth.

Moreover, plastic products help reduce food losses and waste, and maintain its nutritional qualities throughout a myriad of value chains, thereby improving food security and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

OK, but how do you get rid of them?

The effects of large plastic items on marine fauna have been well documented. However, as these plastics begin to disintegrate and degrade, their impacts begin to be exerted at the cellular level, affecting not only individual organisms but also, potentially, entire ecosystems.

Microplastics (plastics less than 5 mm in size) are thought to present specific risks to animal health, but recent studies have detected traces of microplastic particles in human faeces and placentas. There is also evidence of mother-to-foetus transmission of much smaller nanoplastics in rats.

The report recommends the 6R model (Refuse, Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover).  Good luck with that one.


Nov 9 2021

Plastics in the food system: a big problem, getting worse

Last week, I ran across three items related to plastics in our food system.  The big issues: waste, pollution, and harmful chemicals.

(1) Fortunately, Civil Eats has done all the work and produced this must-read compendium of articles.

Of all the issues we cover, one in particular has all of us at Civil Eats deeply concerned: the widespread overuse of plastic in food and agriculture. From the myth of recycling and the millions of tons of plastic in the oceans, to the abundance of “forever chemicals” and microplastics making their way into our food and our soil, plastics are contaminating the food chain, polluting the environment, and making us sick. And while there are important ways individuals can address the problem, they often feel like a drop in the bucket when compared to the ways industry is shaping the narrative, increasing the amount of plastic being produced, and stalling or opposing regulation.

First Look: The Future of Plastic-Free Grocery Shopping

The Follow-Up

The Check-In: A Conversation with the Peak Plastic Foundation

A Roadmap to Plastic-Free Grocery Shopping

What We’re Reading

(2) I also ran across this notice from Food Dive:  “Coca-Cola, Unilever among top plastic polluters, report says.”  This excellent summary refers to The #BrandAudit2021Report from the group, Break Free From Plastic.

The report points out that this is the fourth year in a row Coca-Cola is the #1 plastic polluter.  Here are the report’s top ten.

(3)  Phthlates.  In her Technically Food newsletter, Larissa Zimberoff talks about potentially harmful chemicals that leach into food from plastics, particularly plastic gloves.

The study found that pthalates (an industrial chemical) were found in food samples taken from chains including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Chipotle. These included DnBP, which has been linked to a heightened risk for asthma, and DEHP, which has been linked to an increased risk of reproductive problems. Other problems: disruption to the endocrine system (yes, that’s where diabetes comes from) and behavioral disorders in children…The main source of pthalates in food are the ubiquitous plastic gloves worn in food handling, but also in packaging and processing equipment. 

And a new study looks at phthlates in fast food.  Here’s what the Washington Post says about it:

new study out Tuesday reportsthat far too often, small amounts of industrial chemicals called phthalates (pronounced THA-lates), which are used to make plastics soft, have been found in samples of food from popular outlets including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Chipotle….The study found harmful chemicals in a majority of samples collected. Phthalates are linked to health problems, including disruption to the endocrine system, and fertility and reproductive problems, as well as increased risk for learning, attention and behavioral disorders in children.