Microplastics Found in Lungs: Seven Percent of LA Plastics Recycled

A researcher in Hawaii discovered that decomposing plastic give off greenhouse gases.

A study was released last week in Science of the Total Environment that showed microplastics have been found in people’s lungs. Bigger plastic pieces deteriorate to smaller pieces called microplastics.

Lung tissue from surgery participants found plastic in all lung regions, including the deeper sections. Researchers found 39 microplastics in 11 of 13 lung tissue samples, and included 12 different types of microplastics.

The most prevalent microplastics found were polypropyleen (PP), which is found in carpets and clothing; polyethlyene terephthalate (PET) present in clothing, beverage and food containers; resin, which is a constituent of protective coating and paints; and polyethlene (PE) found in food wrappers, milk containers, toys and detergent bottles.

The study noted additional research was needed to find the effects of microplastics on humans.

In a Medical News Today story, Dr. Osita Onugh said, “The body does not like things that cause inflammation . . .and things that are foreign. So, if it leads to chronic inflammation, that’s where you have things that develop years down the road.” Onugha is a thoracic surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic surgery at Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.

According to that story, plastics are everywhere and, “The United States alone generated approximately 36 million tons of plastic in 2018, but only recycle about 9 percent.  Plastics take from 100 to 1000 years to degrade in landfills.”

Circling the News contacted the Los Angeles Department of Public Works to ask about the plastic recycling rate in L.A.

Public Information Officer Elena Stern said that China’s “National Sword,” which was a policy enacted in January 2018 banned the import of most plastics and other materials to China’s recycling processors. That country had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century.

“Since the China National Sword Policy, many of the facilities have either closed or modified their business model where they no longer accept residential recyclable materials,” Stern said, noting that the City contracted two Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to process, segregate and market the City’s blue-bin recyclable materials: Potential Industries in Harbor, and the Athens facility in Sun Valley.

How effective is recycling plastic in Los Angeles? Only seven percent of all residential plastics are recycled:

Here is the problem.

Of the seven kinds of plastic manufactured, only three types (#1 PET, #2 HDPE, and #5 PP) are recycled. They account for seven percent of the plastic in the blue bin.

All other plastic (Types #3, #4, #6, and #7) cannot be recycled because “they are considered contamination and go to landfill,” Stern said.

Quick Review of plastics:

1. PET is safe for food and drinks but can only be used once because of its porous structure. It includes water bottles. PET is accepted at most recycling plants.

2. HDPE (high-density polyethylene), has a high strength-to-density ratio and can be reused. It includes bottles for cosmetics and household cleaners, stool, chairs, toys, some plastic bags, water, juice and milk jugs.

3. Polyvinyl (PVC) is dangerous because it can cause problems with the hormonal system. Highly toxic chemicals, such as DEHA, can be produced during the PVC life cycle. PVC can be found in shower curtains, cleaner bottles, pipes, cooking oil bottles and clear food wrap.

4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a thermoplastic and one of the oldest grades of polyethylene. It is considered safe – but not environmentally friendly because only a small percent is recycled. LDPE includes bread wrapping, squeezable bottles, shopping bags, packaging foam, trays and other plastic wraps.

5. Polypropylene (PP) is the second-mostly widely produced plastic and is used in yogurt containers, cereal boxes liners, disposable diapers, plastic bottle tops, kitchenware and disposable plates, cups and cutlery. This plastic can be microwaved, but experts say that “it just means that the heated produce will not be deformed in the microwave” and don’t recommend heating it. Some studies prove that even microwavable safe plastic can cause asthma and hormone disruption. Note: Some factories recycle PP’s, but nationwide only three percent is recycled.

6. Polystyrene (PS) or Styrofoam is hard to recycle and includes disposable drinking cups, CD and DVD cases, egg cartons, to-go food containers and insulation, such as building insulation.

7. Other—any plastic not referred to above and includes polycarbonate (PC), which contains highly dangerous BPA (Bisphenol A). Consumers are warned to avoid products with the PC label. These plastics can be found in sport bottles and equipment, baby bottles, medical and dental equipment, electrical wiring and lids.

In Los Angeles only PET, HDPE and PP are recycled, and account for seven percent of plastics. All other plastic goes to landfill . . .and it seems some is going into human lungs and other body sites.

Most plastic today is made from hydrocarbon, which is derived from crude oil, natural gas and coal. Before plastics, consumers used wood, metal, glass and ceramic.

Time to trade in a plastic soap dispenser with a bar of soap?


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One Response to Microplastics Found in Lungs: Seven Percent of LA Plastics Recycled

  1. Moreover, microplastics are now being found in most human blood. Marine life is dying of starvation because of the plastics in their systems. How long before the bigger pandemic is humans dying from plastics in their blood, lungs, and food at levels we can no longer tolerate? The clock is approaching the 11th hour.

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