Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic which can get into our bodies through our food, drinks, or even the air that we breathe. Although scientists are not yet sure what is the effect of these compounds on human health, increasingly more studies have provided clear evidence that exposure to microplastics can lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, and even DNA damage.
A research team led by Sichuan University in China has now found that drinking a single cup of takeaway coffee per week could expose a person to over 90,000 microplastic particles each year.
The scientists examined three different types of plastic cups in which takeaway coffee is usually served: polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polyethylene (PE). They filled each of the three kinds of cups with 400 milliliters of water, sealed them with foil to avoid airborne microplastics entering the cups, and shook them for one minute. These procedures were carried out on a clean glass beaker, in order to avoid potential procedural contaminations.
The analysis revealed that, in about five minutes, the number of microplastic particles in the water reached between 723 and 1,489 particles per cup. Polypropylene cups produced the highest numbers of particles, which is highly concerning, considering the widespread use of such materials all over the world.
Moreover, cups containing hot liquids released significantly more microplastics than those with cold ones. Finally, shaking of the cups – which is common in the case of takeaway coffee – further promoted the release of microplastics.
“Based on the results, we estimated that people may unconsciously ingest 37,613–89,294 microplastics a year due to the use of one plastic cup every 4–5 days. Considering the potential harm of microplastics, the contamination of microplastics resulting from the use of plastic cups for drinks needs to be taken seriously,” the authors warned.
The study is published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.
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