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Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Published : Tuesday, 31 December, 2019 at 8:54 PM  Count : 141

A plateful of plastic --Reuters

A plateful of plastic --Reuters


Microscopic pieces of plastic have been discovered in the most remote locations, from the depths of the ocean to Arctic ice. Another place that plastic is appearing is inside our bodies. We’re breathing microplastic, eating it and drinking plastic-infused water every day.

Plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces, and ultimately ends up everywhere, including in the food chain. Pieces that are less than five millimeters in length, around the size of a sesame seed, are called “microplastics.”

Sesame seeds (left)  Microplastic (Right) --Reuters

Sesame seeds (left) Microplastic (Right) --Reuters


Dozens of reports have been published on microplastics but the scientific community is still only scratching the surface of understanding just how much plastic we consume and how harmful it could be.

People could be ingesting the equivalent of a credit card of plastic a week, a recent study by WWF International concluded, mainly in drinking water but also via sources like shellfish, which tend to be eaten whole so the plastic in their digestive systems is also consumed.

Based on the findings of the study, Reuters created the following images to illustrate what this amount of plastic actually looks like over various time periods.

Every week: 5 grams of plastic

That’s about the same weight as a plastic bottle cap and enough shredded plastic to fill a porcelain soup spoon.

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat




Every month: 21 grams of plastic

That’s about the same weight as five casino dice and enough shredded plastic to half-fill a rice bowl.

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Every 6 months:125 grams of plastic

That’s enough yellow shredded plastic flakes to fill a cereal bowl, as pictured below.

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat


Every year: 250 grams of plastic

That’s a heaped dinner plate’s worth of shredded plastic, as pictured below.

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat




Every 10 years: 2.5kg of plastic

Reuters did not have enough shredded plastic to weigh in order to visualise this comparison. However, a standard life buoy weighs 2.5 kilograms so we found one of those.

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat


In our lifetime: 20kg of plastic

The average human lives for 79 years. Using the current estimate of microplastic in our diets and assuming the situation doesn’t improve or worsen, that equates to 20 kilograms of plastic consumption. That’s more plastic than the two mobile recycling bins shown below, which only weigh 10kg each.

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat

Visualising the amount of microplastic we eat


“We have been using plastic for decades but we still don’t really understand the impact of micro- and nano-sized plastic particles on our health,” said Thava Palanisami of Australia’s University of Newcastle, who worked on the WWF study.





“All we know is that we are ingesting it and that it has the potential to cause toxicity. That is definitely a cause for concern.”

Reuters/ALM

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