Plastic is a problem.
We are all aware now that plastic (and the chemicals in it) pose a major problem to not only the health of our planet, but also to our individual health.
This becomes even more worrisome when you realise there is growing evidence that humans consume huge numbers of tiny plastic particles, microplastic – and very little is really known about the knock-on health consequences of this.
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in length, and they are created when plastic degrades.
And now, some researchers – Irish ones, nonetheless – have discovered that the problem with microplastic ingestion begins in infancy – at least for babies who are bottle-fed.
Microplastic released from baby bottles
According to a new study, bottle-fed babies may ingest more than one million pieces of microplastics each day.
The authors of the research, published in the Nature Food journal, looked at the rate of microplastic released in 10 types of baby bottles or accessories made from polypropylene, the most commonly used plastic for food containers.
When looking at the data, the researchers at Trinity College followed guidelines from the World Health Organization on sterilisation and formula preparation conditions, meaning they prepared the bottles of formula the way it is generally advised and understood it should be done.
Concluding, the study authors said that sterilisation and exposure to high water temperatures had the biggest effect on microplastic release, going from 0.6 million particles per litre on average at 25C to 55 million/litre at 95C.
Over a 21-day test period, the team found that the bottles released between 1.3 and 16.2 million plastic microparticles per litre, meaning the average bottle-fed baby could be ingesting 1.6 million plastic microparticles every day during the first 12 months of their lives.
Don’t panic, says researchers
The authors told AFP that the aim of the research was “not to worry parents” about the potential health risks of bottle microplastics.
“We have communicated, as strongly as we can, that we do not know the potential health risks of infant ingestions of microplastics,” said the Trinity College research team.
“This is an area of research we are now actively pursuing.”
“We don’t know yet if there are any adverse health effects from exposure to microplastics,” explains Professor John Boland of Trinity College Dublin, one of the lead authors of the report, to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“There haven’t been any definitive studies in terms of health implications, so we didn’t want to unduly alarm parents but were rather concerned when we saw these numbers.”
Naturally, low breastfeeding rates will mean more babies are bottle-fed, leading the researchers to conclude that it it was in developed nations that babies were likely ingesting the most plastic – 2.3 million particles daily in North America and 2.6 million in Europe.
To be clear – we all consume microplastics on a daily basis from our food and drink.
In fact, a 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) report showed that microplastics are in our drinking water and that adults are consuming around 300-600 microplastics a day. But the researchers found that baby bottles could shed millions of microplastics a day, and it is the method they are prepared that causes the biggest problem.
Therefore, they suggest a method of preparing baby bottles that will reduce the risk of microplastic release.
What can I do to reduce microplastic exposure when using baby bottles?
This involves some additional steps into the normal bottle-making process, which Professor Boland states will dramatically reduce the level of microplastics released. Please note that sterilisation is still a crucial part of the process and shouldn’t be avoided.
- Follow WHO advice to sterilise your baby bottles as usual
- NEW If using baby formula, use a sterilised NON-PLASTIC container to prepare it rather than a plastic bottle. Important – still use water heated to at least 70°C to make sure you kill any bugs in the powder
- NEW If using baby formula, shake the powder mixture gently to mix it into the water. If your non-plastic container doesn’t have a lid, stir gently with a sterilised metal spoon
- NEW Prepare some additional sterilised water using a NON-PLASTIC container to heat it. Let it cool
- NEW Gently rinse 3 times the sterilised bottle with this additional cool sterilised water before pouring in the prepared formula or expressed milk. This will help to remove the loose microplastics
Non-plastic containers can include stainless steel, glass bottles or a ceramic container. Remember – when using non-plastic containers, these can be very hot after sterilisation. For containers that have not been in contact with milk or milk powder, you can sterilise these by washing them thoroughly at a high temperature and immersing them in boiling water.