Research

WWF study: You could be ingesting 5g of plastic a week

WWF study: You could be ingesting 5g of plastic a week

"This is likely to have much more serious health effects than a rather small number of plastic particles in food and water", Grant said.

"It is very clear that the issue of microplastics is a global one. Even if countries clean up their backyard, it doesn't mean they will be safe as those [microplastic] particles could be entering from other sources".

The largest source of plastic ingestion is drinking water, according to the research, which reviews 52 existing studies to estimate plastic ingestion around the world.

The study published on June 12, discloses that an average person might be consuming 2000 tiny pieces of plastic every week, which is 21 grams a month, and 250 grams a year.

"Plastics are polluting not only our oceans and waterways but also marine life and humans".

Microplastics - plastic particles that do not exceed five millimetres in size - can potentially pose a direct or indirect threat to humans via ingestion or by acting as "stressors" or carriers of contaminants, the university said.

The vast majority of microplastics swallowed came from drinking water, with shellfish coming second and beer last, according to the research.

Although microplastics have been detected in the air, the study says inhalation accounts for a negligible intake "but may vary heavily depending on the environment".

They invited other researchers to build on their conclusions.

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What is the health risk?

While being mindful of the limitations of this evolving field of research, initial findings point towards a global average ingestion rate of plastic by humans of approximately five grams per week. The long-term consequences of plastic ingestion are not yet fully understood.

"There is very large uncertainty about the harms that plastics do", he said.

But that doesn't mean plastics isn't a major problem, he added. "What will happen if you ingest 5g of plastic a week?"

"We can not just remove it", Kavita Prakash-Mani, global conservation director at WWF International, told CNN.

WWF marine police head Alec Taylor said the report "must serve as a wake-up call" for government, adding: "We don't want plastic in our ocean, and we don't want it on our plates".

"Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, a third of which is leaked into nature", the authors wrote in their study, which was commissioned by WWF International.

"We need urgent action at government, business and consumer levels, and a global treaty with global targets to address plastic pollution", Lambertini said.