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The Worst Microplastic Shedders Hiding in your Home

By Sarah Currie-Halpern, Co-Founder and Partner, Think Zero LLC

One of the most pressing waste issues today is the proliferation of microplastics. Found everywhere from the Mariana Trench to the polar regions to your average home, these tiny plastic particles pose a huge threat to earth’s biodiversity and to human health. These particles, which are no bigger than 5 millimeters in diameter, enter our bodies through the air we breathe and the food we eat, and scientists are only beginning to understand the health problems they cause. Recent studies have demonstrated that microplastics affect our digestive, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems. In the environment, they’re a significant threat to marine life and contribute to air and water pollution.

Microplastics are ubiquitous, but there are ways to reduce your exposure simply by knowing where they come from. We’ve broken down some of the items in your home that are microplastic culprits hiding in plain sight, and where to find workable alternatives.

1. Dishwasher pods and dish washing sponges

Replace plastic with natural sponges

Dishwashing pods are plenty convenient, but they’re also coated in polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). PVA is often touted as biodegradable, but that’s only the case in very specific conditions which aren’t met in most wastewater plants. A number of manufacturers like Blueland, Dropps, and Ecover are now providing PVA- and plastic-free pods. When it comes to the cookware that can’t be plopped into the dishwasher, soap up with cellulose sponges, natural loofahs, or wood-based scrubbers. Even before their inevitable journey to the landfill, disposable plastic sponges are known for leeching microplastics onto our dishes and, by extension, into our bodies.

2. Cookware and cutting boards

We’re not out of the kitchen just yet. Plastic cutting boards are infamous for producing microplastics, so if you haven’t replaced yours with a wood board, now is the time. Nonstick pans are another huge culprit: a 2022 study found that broken coating on a nonstick pan can release as many as 2.3 million micro- and nanoplastics. Stainless steel, cast iron, pure ceramic (not ceramic coated!), and enameled cast iron are the best alternatives for you and for the planet.

3. Makeup and skincare projects

Exfoliating gels and washes may be great for your skin, but the microbeads inside can turn into an ecological disaster once washed down the drain. The same goes for makeup, particularly when it contains glitter. For starters, avoid glitter altogether and switch to a microbead-free exfoliator – there are multiple options on the market. Plastic-free and zero waste makeup brands are on the rise, and even switching out just one product like lipstick or mascara is a great place to start. 

4. Takeout and leftover containers

Glass containers with wooden spoon

One way to make sure you’re swallowing more than your fair share of microplastics is to store your food in plastic containers. Durable and spill-proof glass containers are more available and affordable than ever, and they’re perfect for both food prep and leftover storage. On top of that, they are much safer in a microwave than their plastic counterparts, and easier to recycle in the end.

5. Clothing

From unethical labor practices to excessive water waste, there are plenty of arguments to be made against fast fashion. Among the most urgent, however, is fast fashion’s tendency toward synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, polyamide, and acrylic, all of which start shedding microplastics from the very first spin in the washing machine. Try to fill your wardrobe with more naturally sourced fibers like wool and cotton than synthetic ones. Not only are they better for the planet and your health, they’re often sturdier, meaning they’ll last (and look good) longer.

Models wearing natural fiber clothing

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