Reports have been clear that microplastics are ending up in the seafood we eat, but new studies show there’s a sneakier way plastic waste from the ocean is making it onto the food you eat everyday.

September 11, 2017

It might be harder and harder for you to turn a blind eye to the rampant plastic pollution we’re seeing in our oceans when you hear about contaminated seafood. But even those who don’t consume fish or shellfish will have to lookout for repercussions on the daily staples we incorporate into our diet – like sea salt.

Researchers at the University Putra Malaysia and the University of Exeter in England, among others, tested 16 different brands of sea salt from eight different countries. All but one of these sea salts contained heavy traces of plastic, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports in April.

The products tested in the study were sourced from France, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Iran, New Zealand, and Portugal. The only brand of salt that was clear of plastic came from France.

What kind of plastic is exactly being harvested alongside your sea salt? More than 40 percent of the plastic found in the salts were plastic polymers, 23 percent consisted of pigments used in production, and another 5 percent chalked up to carbon. The team behind the study couldn’t identify the rest of the plastic, seen in the forms of fragments, film-like particles and filaments on the salt they studied.

The Guardian claims that most of the plastic found in these sea salts could have come from single-use products like water bottles, which often makes up a majority of the plastic waste found in the ocean.

While the researchers claim that, for now, the presence of plastics in sea salt is low enough to not pose a direct health risk to diners across the world in one sitting, experts in the food industry believe that could change in the future.

A newer study forthcoming from researchers at the University of Minnesota and Sherri Mason, an expert at SUNY Fredonia, suggests that Americans could be eating their way through 660 particles of plastic each year on salt alone. The Guardian reports that Mason’s findings suggest that the real amount of plastic being ingested alongside salt could be much higher, given that 90 percent of Americans eat more than the prescribed amount of salt per day.

At the current rate, 19 billion pounds of plastic end up in our ocean waters annually. But the future could hold more devastation as other research points to the fact that plastic waste could outnumber fish by 2050. And all of that plastic is ending up in fish that is served on our tables daily – a 2015 study illustrated the alarming trend when it proved one in four fish sourced from California seafood markets contained plastic within their stomach alone.

Photo: Brian Woodcock

But, like sea salt, Mason tells the Guardian that people will slowly but surely be shocked to learn of widespread plastic pollution that is affecting foods and beverages that are consumed daily, sourced outside of our oceans as well. Just this month, an interactive database showed that America’s tap water is highly contaminated with carcinogens as well as plastics.

Mason believes the list is only going to grow longer from here, and it’s up to consumers to educate themselves on not making a simple change from sea salt to mined salt, but the longer lasting effects of mass plastic pollution in order to see a real change.