By Laila Freeman, Epigram Food Editor
New research has discovered the presence of micro plastics in 90% of table salt brands. 39 brands of table salt were examined in the study led by Greenpeace Asia, which attempted to link the plastic content in salt to geographical region. Salt from 21 countries was sampled, spanning the five continents countries from Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Asia. Of the 39 brands which were sampled, only three did not contain plastics: from Taiwan, China and France respectively.
According to the UN, up to 12.7 tonnes of plastic enters the world oceans each year. This study has shown that it is microfibres and single use plastics that are predominantly ending up in our salt. One common example of a single use plastic is that of plastic water bottles, which litter oceans and rivers worldwide. A study by the Guardian has claimed that 1 million plastic bottles are purchased per minute - well, we have found where they are ending up clearly: sprinkled on our dinner.
There was massive variation in the amount of plastic found in the different salts. On the whole, salt from Asian countries contained a much higher plastic content than most. This did not come at a surprise to many scientists, considering the extent of population in this continent. Indonesia, whose salt contained the highest amount of plastic, is one of the most polluted countries in the world. The Citarum river in Indonesia is acknowledged as one of the most polluted rivers in the world and in April 2018, the plastic pollution in Bandung, Indonesia reached such highs that the army were called in to help remove the blocks of plastic that were blocking rivers and streams. The population boom in Indonesia has led to a subsequent plastic boom and the country has a culture of simply throwing plastic in rivers and ditches. A commander of a military unit in Bandung described the plastic problem in Indonesia as "Our biggest enemy".
However, whilst plastic levels in salt in Asia are the highest, the majority of salt worldwide did contain traces of plastic. Hence, Sherri Mason's , a professor at the University of New York in Fredonia, observation that the new study "Shows is that microplastics are ubiquitous. It's not a matter of if you are buying sea salt in England, you are safe”. Unfortunately, salt is not the only offender when it comes to plastic. Microplastics have, unsurprisingly, been found in all types of fish and seafood, as well as honey, sugar, beer, organic fertilisers and even tap water. Another recent study from this week, conducted by the Environment Agency Austria, has found plastic in the stool samples of every participant. Evidently, the food we are eating contains plastic and this is making its way into our bodies. Nine different types of plastic were identified, with an average of 20 microplastic particles per sample.
So, what does this mean for our health? Currently, there is no conclusive evidence that plastic in our body is of detriment to our health, with Boxell, a University of York Geography Professor even claiming that focus on micro plastics could be diverting our efforts away from worse types of pollution. Nonetheless, there are certainly speculations that the consumption of plastic could be harmful to your body, with suggestions that it could affected your reproductive development, as it has been proven to do so in fish and other seafood. ecologycentre.org also highlights a number of health risks by the chemicals that are used in plastic production. It seems safe to say that eating plastic is just not safe.
Feature image: Unsplash/Jason Tuinstra
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