Oseye Boyd

Black folks have 99 problems and the environment ain’t one. 

I say that facetiously. The environment definitely is  and should be on our list of problems, but racism, police brutality, disparities in wealth, health and education and a litany of other issues often take priority. 

However, the environment is an issue all of us should give at least a sliver of our attention. In the last week I read three articles about plastic pollution. Not plastic in landfills, but in our bodies. Microplastics, as the particles are called, are ingested in not only the food we eat, but in the air we breathe and the water we drink. These particles are smaller than five millimeters, or about the size of a sesame seed. In a study by the World Wildlife Fund, it’s estimated we consume as many as 1,769 particles of plastic every week through bottled or tap water. Another study, this one published in “Environmental Science and Technology,” states Americans ingest about 74,000 to 121,000 microplastic particles annually. If you only drink bottled water, you may be ingesting an additional 90,000 particles of plastic annually. Plastic is ubiquitous in our world, and every week we ingest about a credit card’s weight in plastic.

And it’s not just humans who are consuming these tiny plastic particles. Microplastics are now being found in the deep ocean. It was widely believed that most of the plastic was floating on the ocean’s surface. However, new information shows most of the plastic is below the surface. Unfortunately, these particles don’t remain in the water. Sea creatures that absorb the particles are eaten by other creatures that inhabit the ocean and so on and so forth until it gets to human consumption. It’s estimated humans ingest about 0.5 grams of microplastics a week from shellfish — the second largest source of the particles. “Acceptable” amounts of plastic were found in added sugars, salts and beer.

 I don’t know about you, but I was horrified to learn that my insides are filled with plastic particles. More research needs to be done to assess the health risks these microplastics can cause. While early research says plastic isn’t harmful, I can’t imagine that having a foreign matter in your body doesn’t pose a health risk. I would guess having a condition such as asthma isn’t helped when you’re breathing in thousands of plastic particles every year. Do these plastic particles increase our chances of cancer? While the answer isn’t definitive at this time, it’s a concern for me after reading about microplastics.

Plastic has made life so much easier in so many ways. I don’t think about how often I use plastic in my every day life. Where we once used metal or glass, now we use plastic. I grew up with glass bottles of pop and paper cartons of milk and orange juice. At some point, plastic bottles became the material of choice for manufacturers. It seemed so much more convenient. I was no longer afraid of dropping the glass bottle of pop on the way home from the pop machine around the corner. The only thing that would happen if you dropped a plastic one is the carbonation would cause the liquid to spray all over you if you opened it too soon.

I now understand everything has a price — even progress — and we often don’t think about the cost or even realize that there will be a cost to pay for these improvements and modern-day conveniences. 

Maybe there’s no reason to worry about microplastics. Maybe our bodies, in all of their awesomeness, naturally remove these tiny pieces of plastic as it removes so many toxins on a regular basis. However, if we can reduce the amount of plastic we use, and therefore ingest, why shouldn’t we? If not for our health, but the health of those who will come after us.

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