You have probably heard of microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic debris resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste.

It’s well documented that they are present in seafood and the marine environment, but did you know that we consume food and water contaminated with microplastics every day? And what is this doing to our bodies?

Plastics have had enormous benefits, especially since mass production of plastic products and packaging began after the Second World War. 

Most of that plastic was thrown away after a single use; we weren’t aware of the downsides. I was a plastics consumer and discarder for several decades before hearing concerns that plastic waste was damaging our planet’s ecosystems.

Plastics have become a huge environmental problem, as they end up in landfill, oceans and other waterways. Plastics gradually break down into tiny particles, leading to concerns about how toxic these microplastics are to the environment and humans. 

Queen Mary University of London has announced it is partnering with the Water Research Centre (WRc) on a pioneering new knowledge transfer research project to examine the impact of microplastics on human health. 

The 24-month Knowledge Transfer Partnership project is funded jointly by WRc and Innovate UK, the national innovation agency that helps UK businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes and services.

The project will help in the understanding of how microplastics impact human health and will be the first step to putting regulatory measures in place to protect people from any risks from plastic’s presence in our food and drinking water. 

Dr Nabil Hajji, technical director of toxicology at the WRc explained: “Plastic pollution is expected to more than double by 2030 with some 40 per cent of plastic recognised as a single-use material remaining persistent in the environment. In addition, as it is degraded over time, it creates microplastics (less than 5mm) and nanoplastics (less than 0.1mm) – this is the substance being ingested by animals and people.”

We must hope that this project will succeed in its aims, and lead to improved water quality as well as guiding plastic and recycling manufacturers towards safeguarding public health.