Small pieces of plastic called microplastics can travel through wastewater into the ocean, where animals may consume them. Over time, this can cause microplastics to accumulate in animals who eventually become food for humans.
According to Plastic Oceans, more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year.
A 2020 study of microplastics in five different types of seafood found plastic in every sample the researchers tested, suggesting that microplastics do find their way into our food products. This may affect human health.
Keep reading to learn more about plastics in seafood, including the associated health risks and more about the dangers of ocean pollution.
Larger pieces of plastic present a number of health risks for sea life, as plants and animals can become entangled in them. However, in recent years, researchers have also turned their attention toward microplastics.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters long. Their small size means that they can travel easily throughout the ocean. Animals may mistake them for food or accidentally consume them when eating other food.
Larger pieces of plastic can become microplastics as they break down over time and move around the ocean.
Some manufacturers may also use microplastics in their products. For example, cosmetic companies first began using tiny pieces of plastic in beauty products about 5 decades ago.
These small pieces of plastic are common in some exfoliating products and toothpastes because they are a cheaper alternative to nonplastic ingredients.
Consumers can check their beauty products by looking for microbeads on the label, or by using the Beat the Microbead app. It is worth noting that the United States banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products in 2015.
Microplastics are highly prevalent in seafood due to the vast quantity of them in the ocean.
Research consistently finds microplastics in a wide variety of animals, in both oceans and rivers that feed into the oceans. For example, one 2020 study of two fish species in a river found that 100% of these fish had microplastics in their bodies.
Plastics, and especially microplastics, can travel up the food chain. The closer to the top of the food chain an animal is, the more likely it is to eat lots of microplastics.
This occurs because smaller animals eat plastics, then larger animals eat those animals, and larger animals again eat those animals, all of which allow microplastic levels to continue accumulating.
Humans, at the top of the food chain, may then eat plastic-contaminated animals.
There is no way to eliminate microplastics from an animal once they are present, and there is no source of wild seafood that can guarantee that their products contain no microplastics at all.
Researchers do not yet fully know the effects of consuming plastic-contaminated seafood on human health. It may take decades to fully understand the effects of microplastics, since some might be cumulative, appearing only after several years.
It is also difficult to control studies into the