Katy: We are all doing our best to cut down on our use of plastic. We’ve seen the disturbing pictures of tons of plastic waste floating in the ocean and dreadful photos of birds and marine creatures dying because they’ve got caught up in plastic rubbish or have eaten pieces of plastic thinking they were food.
Paul: Plastic is everywhere. It’s in our clothes, containers, bottles, electronics, food trays, cups and paints. Our transport depends on it, so do our computers, and the buildings we live and work in. We sleep on it, wear it, watch it, and are in daily bodily contact with it whether we want to be or not.
Katy: Plastic is the most successful material man has ever made but it is impossible to destroy. Sunlight, air and sea water do not make it decompose it like they do most other materials. Plastic simply breaks up into smaller and smaller bits, until the tiny particles that are left enter the food chain, the air, the soil and the water we drink.
Paul: Yes, you did hear correctly what Katy has just said. We buy a bottle of water, intending, of course, to recycle the plastic bottle, but there is no guarantee that the water in that bottle does not contain micro bits of plastic that are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.
Katy: Following findings by scientists at the State University of New York, the World Health Organisation is currently carrying out a review into the risks of plastic in bottled drinking water.
Paul: The team at S.U.N.Y analysed some of the world’s best-selling brands of bottled water and found that more than ninety per cent of the bottles studied contained microscopic pieces of plastic.
Katy: Two hundred and fifty-nine bottles from nineteen locations in nine countries were analysed. Eleven of the brands contained an average of three hundred and twenty-five micro particles of plastic for every litre.
Paul: Of the two hundred and fifty-nine bottles tested, just seventeen were totally free of plastic.
Katy: The most common type of plastic found in the bottled water was polypropylene - the plastic used to make bottle caps.
Paul: The WHO has said that there is no evidence yet that these levels of plastic in bottled water have any negative impact on human health. But who wants to drink water with any level of plastic in it?
Katy: There are several ways that traces of plastic could get into bottled water. The most obvious route is from the plastic cap that is screwed onto the bottle once the water is inside. All water bottling plants use strict methods of filtration. But plastic is getting into our bottled water somehow.
Paul: It is almost impossible for water-bottling plants to eliminate micro plastic fibres from the air in the factories or from workers’ clothes. And these could be getting into the water after it has been filtered.
Katy: In the 1950s, the world made about two million tonnes of plastic a year. Now that figure is three hundred and thirty million tonnes a year – and it is set to treble again by 2050. Plastic is a problem, and only strict measures from governments can stop things getting worse.