A mug of tea or coffee made from water boiled in a plastic kettle could contain more than three million micro-plastic particles, a study suggests.
Microplastics are very tiny pieces of plastic, smaller than 5mm. They often accumulate in our oceans and become ingested by marine life, making their way through the food chain and on to our plates.
The study by researchers at Trinity College, Dublin found that Kettles made from polypropylene release more than 10 million tiny plastic fragments into a litre of water in a single 100C boil. Polypropylene is a hard plastic, commonly used for kitchen appliances.
Researchers found that increasing the temperature of the plastic has a big impact on the number of particles released, for example at 95C there are 55 million particles released. Lowering the temperature to 25C reduces the number of plastic particles produced to 0.6 million.
The same study also found that bottle-fed babies consume millions of these particles a day.
“Our study indicates that daily use of plastic products is an important source of microplastic release, meaning that the routes of exposure are much closer to us than previously thought. We need to urgently assess the potential risks of microplastics to human health,” said Professor Liwen Xiao.
The affects of consuming microplastics on this scale are not yet clear but it’s an unsettling thought and some studies have linked them to a range of health problems including cancer and asthma.
In 2014 a study found that an estimated 11.5 million tonnes of plastic was added to the sea every year and that this amount was increasing every year.
“This study is another piece of the puzzle that illustrates that microplastics problem is likely much bigger than we think. This issue is something we need to start really getting to grips with sooner rather than later,” said Professor Oliver Jones, of RMIT University in Melbourne, who was not involved in the research.