Opening bottles releases microplastics

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

As if we need another reason to eschew plastic products, which wreak environmental havoc from their inception to final resting place, researchers have shown that just opening a plastic bottle or wrapper releases microplastics.

Microplastics, defined as minuscule particles up to five millimetres long, are ubiquitous bi-products of commodities including plastic packaging, tires and synthetic clothing and have been found in everything from marine life and soil ecosystems to human stools.

They are thought to originate directly from products such as cosmetic exfoliants or indirectly from the long-term breakdown of larger plastic items.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, Australia, investigated whether they are generated by opening plastic items, reporting their findings in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Using chemical tests and microscopy, Zahra Sobhani and colleagues monitored how much microplastic is generated as we go about our daily lives tearing open chocolate packaging, cutting seals and opening plastic bottles.

They found that these actions produced 46 to 250 microplastic particles of all shapes and sizes per centimetre of plastic. The amount varied according to features of the product such as stiffness, thickness and density.

The results show that simple everyday activities add to the spread of microplastics, warranting more research into human exposure and its impact on our health.

“This finding sends an important warning,” the authors conclude, “if we are concerned about microplastics and care about reducing microplastics contamination.”

Surely, it’s high time to end the age of plastic.

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