Nine simple steps to…Purge your home of micro plastics

After shocking research shows we inhale up to 7,000 plastic particles a day, nine simple steps to…Purge your home of micro plastics

  • New research suggests that we inhale up to 7,000 plastic particles every day
  • Louise Atkinson reveals swaps that make a difference to toxic load in your home 
  • Among tips is swapping a plastic kettle for a glass or metal kettle 

After shocking new research revealed that we inhale up to 7,000 plastic particles from our clothes, toys and furnishings every day, we suggest nine simple — and surprising — swaps that can make a huge difference to the potentially toxic load lurking in your home…

Plastic kettle for metal or glass

Louise Atkinson shares simple swaps that can make a huge difference to the potentially toxic load lurking in your home – including swapping a plastic kettle (pictured) for glass or metal 

Most kitchen kettles are made from polypropylene, which releases millions of tiny plastic fragments into the water every time it boils. That’s because, when heated, plastic breaks down, shedding particles.

A study by Trinity College Dublin found that one mug of tea alone, if made from water boiled in a plastic kettle, could contain more than three million microplastic particles smaller than the width of a human hair (so-called nanoplastics) and more than 10 million tiny plastic fragments can be released into a litre of water in a single boil, significantly adding to the microplastic load you could be unwittingly inhaling each day.

Change to a glass or metal kettle instead (or a combination of both). A plastic handle and base are ok, as long as the plastic is not in contact with the boiling water.

Plastic wrap for beeswax cloth

Clear plastic wrap is convenient but the chemicals required to make it sticky and stretchy make it unrecyclable and, being delicate, it breaks down very rapidly into microplastics. These plastic particles could leach into the food that the plastic wrap touches and are more likely to be released when the food covered in plastic wrap is heated (such as in a microwave).

Louise said when reheating food in a microwave, swap plastic film for reusable silicone covers which don’t degrade or shed microplastics (file image)

Foods containing any excess oil tend to become a lot hotter when microwaved — hot enough to melt any plastic wrapping.

When reheating food in a microwave, swap plastic film for reusable silicone covers (available from lakeland.co.uk) which don’t degrade or shed microplastics. Don’t let plastic wrap touch your food, but preferably use a plate with a lid instead.

When wrapping food for the fridge, use beeswax wraps (squares of cloth impregnanted with beeswax which has a waterproofing effect) instead to prolong the life of leftovers.

Posh pyramid tea bags for PG tips

Premium-priced tea pyramids are often made of a fine nylon (aka plastic) mesh, which can degrade when dunked in boiling water, potentially leaching microplastics into your brew.

Even seemingly harmless paper tea bags often have a crimped edge, which is sealed with plastic-based glue that taints your drink and builds toxins in your compost if that’s where you tip your used tea bags. Manufacturers claim it’s only a small amount but if you’re drinking multiple cups of tea each day the microplastic load can soon mount.

Go back to good old-fashioned loose tea leaves or choose a brand that has folded edges and is sealed with a string or staple, such as PG Tips, Twinings, Pukka, Clipper and Tea Pigs.

Plastic kitchen utensils for metal

Louise recommends swapping plastic kitchen utensils for wooden or metal alternatives (file image)

When exposed to heat, any plastic kitchen utensil can start to degrade and release microplastics into the air or the food you’re eating. Age and regular heating cause the chemical bonds in the plastic to break down and the chemicals are more likely to leach. While a plastic colander might be relatively harmless for rinsing and draining salad, it is more likely to destabilise if you use it repeatedly to drain boiling water off pasta or potatoes.

The same applies to plastic spatulas, stirrers, serving spoons and fish slices if regularly exposed to heat.

Use wooden or metal alternatives. And be aware that putting plastic kitchen utensils in the dishwasher hastens their decline, increasing the risk of microplastics being leached into the water system, via the dishwasher.

Ready meal carton for paper or wood

Louise said most ready meals are served in plastic packaging, but you can reduce exposure by avoiding takeaways or looking for ready meals packed in compostable trays (file image) 

Most ready meals are served in plastic packaging, which potentially leaches microplastics into the food during manufacturing, storage (particularly if the tray contains acidic or fatty foods) and when the plastic containers are re-heated.

A 2020 study, published in the journal Nature, has shown microplastics can be generated by cutting plastic packaging with scissors or knives, tearing with hands and even in the twisting action to open plastic containers, bags or caps.

You can reduce your microplastic exposure by avoiding takeaways (unless your favourite restaurant uses aluminium trays).

Or look for ready meals packaged in wooden or compostable trays (for example from Charlie Bigham’s). Completely remove any plastic film on top before re-heating.

If in doubt, transfer the meal to a glass or ceramic plate or dish and cover with a non-plastic lid.

Plastic toy car for wooden wheels

Louise recommends introducing children to robust, wooden and rubber toys instead of plastic ones (file image) 

One of the reasons children are at more risk of exposure to microplastics is because they play with, and may even chew, plastic toys and synthetic comforters — ingesting microscopic particles.

Introduce robust, wooden alternatives, ideally made from bamboo or FSC certified wood, painted with non- toxic paints (find a selection at ethicalsuperstore.com).

Likewise, swap plastic bath toys for rubber ones (tikiritoys.co.uk) and synthetic comforters for ones made of soft cotton.

Nylon rugs for natural fibres

Louise recommends switching from nylon or polyester rugs to natural fibres such as wool, jute/hessian, sisal or cotton (file image)

Nylon or polyester rugs might be hardwearing, stain-resistant and brightly coloured, but when placed in busy parts of the home they can swiftly degrade and shed millions of microscopic plastic particles into the air as feet scuff the pile.

This applies to environmentally-friendly carpets and rugs made from recycled bottles.

The amount of microplastics being shed can affect children more than adults because they tend to be more active (so generating more microfibres), and they spend more time playing on the floor, where microplastics can settle in the form of dust.

Start with rooms the children use most and switch to natural fibres such as wool, jute/hessian, sisal or cotton.

Wet wipes for a face flannel

Louise said it’s better to use a cotton cleaning cloth or face flannel to clean your face than wet wipes (file image)

Around 90 per cent of wet wipes are reinforced with plastic in the form of finely spun cellulose fibres to stop them falling apart in your hands.

Studies show rubbing one wipe by hand and dipping it in water is enough to release over 1,000 different polyester microplastics into the air and water system.

It’s far better to wash your hands in soap and water, use a cotton cleaning cloth or face flannel to clean your face and reusable, washable cotton pads to remove make-up.

Old vacuum cleaner for new

Household dust can be full of microplastics — which is very easy to kick up into the air from the carpet and breathe in.

Vacuuming regularly will certainly help — as long as you remember to change the filter.

Better still, invest in a model with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. Designed to remove potential allergens, these sophisticated filters are also effective at removing microplastics.

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