#BeatPlastic Pollution


Microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic – generally 5mm in size or less – that are the result of the disposal and breakdown of consumer and industrial plastic products. It has been found on the tallest mountain tops and in the deepest oceans. We breathe, eat, and drink microplastics that have contaminated our water supply and food systems.

Microplastics are formed from various chemicals used in the production process. This includes lubricants, dyes, flame retardants, plasticizers, UV stabilizers, and fillers from rubber, silica, asbestos, talc, and other materials. Microplastics also absorb heavy metals and other toxins from the environment, increasing their hazardous potential.

Once microplastics find their way into the ocean, it is almost impossible to eliminate. Marine creatures, from tiny zooplankton to sharks and whales at the top of the food chain consume microplastics – on their own or by feeding on smaller marine creatures who have eaten them.

Larger plastics can pass through their bodies, but tiny ones pass through the gut and travel to the lungs, liver, and other organs. Physical damage can result and reproduction and growth affected. Oysters, clams, ʻopihi, and mussels rapidly accumulate microplastics, as they filter water when feeding. Other filter feeders, such as whale sharks and manta rays, are also particularly vulnerable.

Microplastics have been discovered in the cells, blood, organs, and even placentas of humans. Not surprising considering sugar, salt, alcohol, tap and bottled water, fruits, vegetables, grains, animal products, and seafood have all been shown to be contaminated with it.

It is in our clothes, lotions, cosmetics, and other personal care products. Microplastics can cause inflammation, change our gut microbiome, damage cells and DNA, cause memory and learning problems, affect levels of hormones in our bodies that affect behavior, metabolism, and reproduction, and increase the risk of breast, prostate, thyroid and other hormone-related cancers.

We can take steps to limit our exposure to microplastics and to lessen the amount entering the environment.

Start by not microwaving plastic containers, take-out boxes, and frozen meals in their containers. Hand wash plastic containers rather than use a dishwasher, as heated water can degrade the plastic. Store your leftovers in glass or silicone containers instead of plastic, as the acid from certain foods can also degrade the plastic.

Instead of grabbing a disposable water bottle, fill up your glass or stainless steel bottle instead. Drinking distilled water or using a water filter for home use has been shown to filter out 100% of known microplastics. Likewise, instead of using paper or takeout coffee cups, bring your own reusable coffee cup or mug during your coffee stop or while at work.

Purchase cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoo, and other personal care products that are labeled “fragrance-free” or “phthalate-free.” Avoid products with ingredients such as acrylate copolymer, polypropylene, nylon, and other plastic-based ingredients.

Limiting your consumption of shellfish, dusting and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and avoiding single-use tea bags are other ways to reduce the amount of microplastics that get in your body. And don’t forget to recycle!

Support World Environment Day this month by committing to a global effort to reduce microplastics daily.

Born and raised in Kona, Hawaiʻi, Dr. Jodi Leslie Matsuo is a Native Hawaiian Registered Dietician and certified diabetes educator, with training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook @DrJodiLeslieMatsuo, Instagram @drlesliematsuo and on Twitter @DrLeslieMatsuo.