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Study reveals Indonesians consume the most microplastics globally

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  • Indonesians consume the highest amount of microplastics globally, with an estimated 15 grams per capita per month.
  • Seafood and table salt are significant sources of microplastic ingestion in Indonesia.
  • The study highlights the urgent need for improved waste management and pollution control measures to reduce microplastic contamination.

A recent study has found that Indonesians consume more microplastics than any other population in the world. The research, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, estimates that the average Indonesian ingests around 15 grams of microplastics per month, primarily through seafood. This figure is significantly higher than in other countries, with Americans consuming about 2.4 grams and Paraguayans the least at 0.85 grams per month.

Microplastics, tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size, have become a pervasive part of our diet. These particles enter our food through various pathways, posing potential health risks. Seafood is a significant source, as fish and shellfish ingest microplastics from polluted oceans, which then transfer to humans upon consumption. Sea salt, particularly in regions with high marine pollution, also contains substantial amounts of microplastics. Bottled water is another contributor, with plastic bottles shedding microplastics into the water we drink. Food packaging, especially when heated, can release microplastics into food we ingest. Additionally, plastics used in agriculture, like mulch films, can break down and contaminate crops, further increasing microplastic ingestion in our diets.

The study, conducted by researchers from Cornell University, mapped the human uptake of microplastics across 109 countries. It considered various factors such as eating habits, food processing technologies, age demographics, and breathing rates to provide a comprehensive estimate of human microplastic ingestion. "The uptake of microplastics at the country level is a critical indicator of plastic pollution and public health risks," said Fengqi You, professor in energy systems engineering at Cornell University and co-author of the study.

One of the most concerning findings is the high concentration of microplastics in Indonesian table salt, which is estimated to be about 100 times higher than in the United States. This disparity highlights the severe impact of plastic pollution in Southeast Asia, where countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines top the list for dietary microplastic consumption per capita.

The study also examined the inhalation of microplastics, revealing that residents of China and Mongolia breathe in more than 2.8 million particles per month, the highest globally. In contrast, U.S. residents inhale about 300,000 particles per month. The lowest inhalation rates are found in Mediterranean regions, with Spain, Portugal, and Hungary residents inhaling between 60,000 to 240,000 particles monthly.

"Industrialization in developing economies, particularly in East and South Asia, has led to increased consumption of plastic materials, waste generation, and human microplastic uptake," noted You. Developed countries, however, are seeing a reverse trend due to better economic resources for reducing and removing plastic debris.

The findings of this study come at a crucial time, as an international committee is negotiating the U.N. Plastics Treaty, a legally binding agreement aimed at establishing global rules for plastic production and disposal. The treaty, expected to be finalized later this year, will emphasize international collaboration to reduce marine microplastics.

Addressing microplastic ingestion requires sustainable packaging solutions, stringent waste management regulations, and advanced water treatment technologies. The comprehensive mapping of global microplastic ingestion provides crucial insights for local pollution mitigation efforts and supports the development of targeted strategies to combat this global crisis.

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