Breathing in Plastic: Microplastics in Our Lungs



You may have heard about the giant island of plastic that is calmly floating around our Pacific Ocean at the moment. Most of us have seen the devastating effects that plastic waste and debris has on both animals and the environment. But what many of us fail to see, is how deep is the connection between everything that surrounds us and how this puts every living thing at risk. Including us.


Pollution is everywhere and we have become accustomed to living with it. You may see it on your way to work, as a bag is trapped on a tree and or a plastic bottle lying on the grass when enjoying a picnic with friends. It’s become so normalised to see plastic blending in with our everyday lives, that we just get on with things thinking that it is not affecting us imminently and directly. Leaving aside the cycle that it all plays in climate change and natural disasters, what about those micro-particles that no one sees and live closer to us than we are aware of?


Taking a closer look


Many people are familiar with the consequences of using plastic straws and bags in our day to day lives. They are aware not only of how it damages and threatens animals, but how it can circle back to us. By breaking it down into smaller particles, animals end up eating several pieces of plastic and we end up consuming that, as part of the food chain. These small plastic particles, microplastics, have been found everywhere on Earth, from the Pacific garbage island to the deepest parts of the world and the human body. They can travel and spread nearly to every single corner of existence. It has even been found that nano-plastics can reach organs such as the brain and lungs.


A revolutionary material


But let’s go a bit back in time and examine the role that fashion has had in this -although on the surface it may seem completely unrelated. The DuPont company introduced the revolutionary material to the fashion industry for the first time less than a century ago: plastic in the form of polyester. It quickly appealed to the public and the whole industry as it was cheap, lightweight, and wrinkle-free.


Today, around half of the clothes sold online by fashion brands are made from virgin plastic, whilst in contrast, only about 1% contained recycled fabric. Most people, me included, are ignorant as to how the majority of the clothes we wear are made. It’s pretty common to just look at the price tag and go for the prettier, cheapest option without even considering the damaging mechanisms that we support by buying these types of garments.


Microplastics: silent killers


You may take a look at the tag of your clothes before washing them, you know, just to see if they will stain your other clothes, if they will shrink or if you should wash them by hand. Naively looking into this, one may find that they are made of polyester, nylon, acrylic, among other types of silent killers. The deal with these types of materials is that they build up into a less known type of small particles pollution: microfibres. These fibres easily detach themselves and are so small that they just go floating around your house.


Similar to the way the plastic island invades and corrupts the ocean and its ecosystem, microfibres in cheaply made clothes violate your health starting from the outside and then diving inside your organism. This is especially the case when you put your clothes in your washing machine, as that's when much of these particles become loose. Research has found that microplastics and microfibres damage lung tissue and makes it harder for your lungs to recover. It was even found, through conducting laboratory experiments, that during pregnancy microfibres can also manage to reach the foetus, settling into the liver, lungs, kidneys, and brain.


Taking action


Now that some of the more dangerous and direct threats of plastic pollution have been explored, the question remains: what can we do about it? It may be common to feel hopeless in these situations, many would think that there is little that we can do to make a change.

Well, here is a list of things we can implement straight away and start the wheel of transformation:

  • Begin from the inside: take care of yourself and your home. Regularly ventilate, clean, and vacuum to try to get rid of as much of the settled microplastics pollution as possible

  • Help yourself and the people around you by purchasing textiles for you and your home that come from sustainable materials

  • Stay away from fast fashion altogether

  • Demand better quality. Ask your favourite brands to take responsibility for the materials they are using

And, most importantly, continue to educate yourself and those around you. It is a communal duty for the future of the next generations as well.