Microplastics: How to reduce them in your home

Toxic plastics are polluting the planet, and our homes. Try this surprisingly easy science-backed hack to help reduce your exposure to microplastics.

There is plenty of research about microplastics polluting our oceans, air and soil, but the place you are most at risk of inadvertently consuming them is much closer than you think.

People spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors, which means the greatest exposure to microplastics happens in your home, EPA Victoria chief environmental scientist Professor Mark Taylor says.

An Australian study found 39 per cent of household dust particles are made up of microplastics.

Another Australian study suggests we may unknowingly eat (or ingest) around 5g of tiny pieces of plastic every week – that’s equivalent to the weight of a credit card.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces that are often invisible to the human eye and can contain polyethylene, polyester and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

And they are easy to unknowingly inhale or ingest.

Researchers have found the average person consumes about 50,000 particles of microplastics a year.

Where do you get exposed to microplastics?

Microplastics can be found in everyday items – from clothes, furniture and flooring through to food packaging and water bottles.

Even your morning cup of tea can contain microplastics.

A Canadian study found steeping a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature releases about 11.6 billion microplastic particles and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into each cup.

What are the health risks of microplastics?

Prof Taylor says some microplastics contain toxic compounds.

“When you swallow them, some of these particles will stay in your body and accumulate,” Prof Taylor says.

“It is an inescapable reality that we are living in a sea of microplastics from which there is no escape and the true human health consequences have yet to be identified.”

Some microplastics have been linked with cancer and gene mutations that can cause disease.

The easy way to reduce microplastics in the home

“We found the highest concentrations of microplastic fibres came from houses where the main floor covering was carpet, and from homes where floors were vacuumed less often,” she wrote in the report.

The report recommends using a vacuum with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter that collects fine particles, including microplastics.

Other ways to reduce microplastics

There are many ways to decrease microplastics at home:

  • Avoid disposable plastic bottles; instead use stainless steel drink bottles or drink tap water
  • Store food in glass, silicone or foil containers
  • Buy clothes made from natural materials such as wool, organic cotton, silk or bamboo
  • For carpet, choose natural fibres such as pure wool or sisal
  • Stop microwaving plastic containers
  • Install a filter in your washing machine and air-dry clothes
  • Buy loose tea leaves, not teabags and use a tea-strainer

Written by Sarah Marinos.