Global poo survey shows our waste is full of microplastic

23 Oct 2018

Image: © gpointstudio/

Researchers have collected stool samples from different parts of the globe, with all samples testing positive for microplastics.

Microplastics have forever been lodged in our lexicon thanks to David Attenborough and other environmental campaigners highlighting the immense damage caused by the irresponsible dumping of plastic waste in our oceans.

Now, after more and more research has shown the extent to which microplastics have entered our food chain, a new study analysing the waste that comes from our own body highlights just how much of an impact they have had on our diet.

The research from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria analysed and tracked stool samples from Europe and Asia, including Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria.

Incredibly, the results showed that every single sample tested positive for the presence of microplastics, with nine different types including polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET).

Large concentrations

This is particularly worrying as, while we are still coming to terms with what damage they cause to the environment, it is believed microplastics can impact human health through the gastrointestinal tract. When they enter the digestive system, they could affect the tolerance and immune response of the gut by bioaccumulation or aiding transmission of toxic chemicals and pathogens.

This study, reportedly the first of its kind, used a new analytical procedure capable of detecting microplastics measuring between 50 and 500 micrometres, with PP and PET being the most common.

Participants were asked to keep a food diary in the week leading up to their stool sample, with all of them documenting that they had eaten food wrapped in plastic or drank from plastic bottles. On average, 20 microplastic particles were discovered for every 10g of stool.

“While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver,” said lead researcher Dr Philipp Schwabl. “Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic