By Emily Wiest
Elm Staff Writer
In response to a study conducted at New York University last year which found microplastics present in sea salt, South Korean and Greenpeace East Asia researchers set out to determine the scale of the issue. Their findings were drastic — 90 percent of the world’s table salt is contaminated with microplastics.
According to the study, the average adult consumes 2,000 microplastics from salt alone each year. The term “microplastics” categorizes any piece of plastic that is smaller than five millimeters in length.
What this means, however, is largely unknown. Scientists still do not have a definitive answer on what microplastic consumption means for our health.
What we do know is that human action is to blame. The average person throws away 185 pounds of plastic per year. Every year, 300 million tons of plastic are produced and 8 million tons of it are dumped into the ocean.
The results of the study revealed a strong correlation between human microplastic consumption and emissions in the given area. 36 of the 39 salt brands analyzed contained microplastics in varying amounts, with Asian salt brands having the highest concentrations. Indonesian salt had the greatest microplastic content and just so happens to be one of the world’s biggest contributors to plastic pollution in the ocean.
As most of us know, plastic is a major environmental concern because of how slowly it breaks down. Degradation can take hundreds or even thousands of years, but in that time the plastic breaks into smaller pieces.
These particles are too tiny for our water systems to filter out, ending up in our oceans and, apparently, our table salt.
Aside from waste and industrial processes, microplastics are also coming from more mundane daily practices — the water from our washing machines, which contains fiber particles, and the beads in body scrubs, to name a few.
There has been a recent movement on campus to replace our normal straws with paper to decrease plastic waste on campus, which is a good place as any to start. According to the National Park Service, Americans use 500 million of them every day.
If we’re using that much disposable plastic just for our straws, imagine the impact of some of our other practices — the cups and bottles our drinks come in, grocery bags, and the plastic wrapping of countless products just begin to scratch the surface.
Straws are a good place to start, but we can do so much more as individuals. Maybe this study is the call to action we all need. Plastic consumption and disposal are coming back to haunt us — are we going to wait for scientists to figure out exactly what it’s doing to our health before we act?