Plastic particles are so prolific that even insects are eating them, which is contaminating our food chain, according to new research.
Scientists at the University of Reading have found that microplastics are consumed by mosquito larvae and that they remain inside the insects through metamorphosis.
Birds and bats then eat the flying insects, ingesting the plastic, and those animals can then be eaten by larger prey, providing a potential new pathway for plastics to enter the food chain.
In theory, a bird bred for human consumption like a chicken could consume an insect that had ingested plastic, therefore making its way into the human food chain, the researchers told HuffPost UK.
These plastics can originate from plastic pollution such as microbeads in beauty products, which are now banned in the UK, researchers said. These microplastics take hundreds of years to break down in the environment and have been found to be widespread in oceans and freshwater all over the world.
Awareness has already been raised around the potential for microplastics to enter our food chain through sea life. But University of Reading scientists say this is the first time microplastics are able to navigate “several life stages in flying insects” - making their way from the water into the skies.
“Much recent attention has been given to the plastics polluting our oceans, but this research reveals it is also in our skies,” Professor Amanda Callaghan, biological scientist at the University of Reading and lead author, said.
“This is eye opening research, which has shown us for the first time that microplastics are able to navigate several life stages in flying insects, allowing them to contaminate all kinds of living creatures who would not normally be exposed to them. It is a shocking reality that plastic is contaminating almost every corner of the environment and its ecosystems.”
She told HuffPost UK: “The human aspect of this is that we should all stop using plastics.”