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The taste of plastic: the waste on our table

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

What will sushi of the future be like if the pollution caused by microplastics continues to progress at the current rate? Sweet Sneak Studio deals with this topic in its project "The Microplastic Photo Series" which shows some of the foods in which the presence of microplastics has been ascertained.

To inform and sensitize people about microplastic pollution, the Danish communication agency Sweet Sneak Studio (based in Copenhagen) in collaboration with the photographer Morten Bentzon, has created "The Microplastic Photo Series", a captivating artistic project that behind its beauty hides a disturbing message. The studio, specialized in food design, presented artistic shots of eight different foods that tend to contain microplastics, that is, very small waste that is released into the environment once the plastic abandoned in nature degrades. Sweet Sneak Studio has embarked on the project to raise awareness of how commonly used plastics, such as shopping bags and plastic packaging, can re-enter the food chain, and not only through fish:

"A range of marine life including zooplankton, octopus, clams, oysters, fish and seabirds can ingest microplastics, with possible health consequences" - stated the Dutch firm.

At the end of the disposal process, therefore, microplastics move very easily to the top of the food chain, ending up in our dishes and even in bottled water, beer, honey and more. Morten Bentzon's photographs show each of these foods, portrayed against a brightly colored flat background. Japanese uramaki are no longer wrapped in the famous nori seaweed but in blue and grey plastic bags, while the dense foam of beer glass is replaced by polystyrene pearls. In the oyster shells instead, instead of the mollusks, we find only transparent film, and inside the honey jar many plastic pieces similar to colored confetti. Art becomes denunciation, and through the beauty and realism of these shots, it represents a reminder to which it is impossible to remain indifferent.

“You will be surprised to find that we consume microplastics not only through seafood. Even water is not safe when purchased in plastic bottles. Scientists also found microplastics in beer, honey and sea salt."

What are microplastics and why are they harmful to humans and the environment?

In recent years, the pollution caused by plastic has become a problem that we are all aware of, but not everyone knows that plastic often if it is abandoned in nature, arrives on our table in the form of microplastics. Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic materials smaller than 5 millimeters that are formed as a result of the disintegration and deterioration of larger plastic pieces such as bags, bottles, fishing nets, synthetic garments, tires. If the plastic is not properly disposed of or recycled, it persists for a long time in the environment. Just think that the degradation time of a plastic bottle can vary between 100 and 1000 years. Unfortunately, all the plastic produced is not reused and therefore ends up being abandoned in the environment causing disastrous consequences. Pollution from plastic and microplastic is everywhere today: in the oceans, in agricultural fields, in food products and also in the water we drink. The main problem is linked to the microplastics present in the sea which can be ingested by marine animals such as fish, mollusks and crustaceans, and thus, through the food chain, the plastic and the toxic chemicals carried by it can arrive directly on our tables. The risk is high for humans as well: the pollutants released by microplastics can be ingested and end up in our bodies. These pollutants can interfere with the human endocrine system to produce genetic alterations.

Be careful, however. Microplastics are not only found in the oceans, but they can be found in many daily life products, starting from cosmetics (creams, shampoos, shower gel) to make-up. Since the 1990s, manufacturers of make-up and cosmetic products began to insert "microbeads" into skin cleansers, toothpaste, face-body creams, shaving creams, with the functionality of exfoliating agents. To be able to identify them, simply read the chemical composition on the product label. The most frequently used microplastics are Polyethylene (PE), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), Nylon, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP).

These particles come into contact with our skin, causing physiological changes. In addition to being harmful to our body, microplastics present in beauty products end up directly in the sea through the pipes of the shower and sink. What many consumers ignore is that this kind of waste is not held back by purification systems and thus end up directly in water networks, public waters, seas, lakes and rivers, following the dangerous cycle described above.

What solutions can be adopted?

Plastic and microplastics imply a very serious, widespread and global problem that requires immediate action. For instance, by increasing the recycling rates of plastic waste in the European Union and make all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030. The purpose of this strategy is not to implement a "war" against plastic, but rather to foster a circular economy of plastic in which this material is used sustainably and responsibly, to be able to stop the harmful effects and preserve the value of the production chain. Besides, Europeans have asked the Commission to introduce a ban across Europe for those firms who intentionally add microplastics to cosmetics, personal care products, detergents and cleaning products by 2020.



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