Planet vs. Plastics
Microplastics Linked to an Uptick in Antibiotic Resistance
September 29, 2023
Antibiotic resistance — or the ability of harmful bacteria to resist virus-fighting antibiotics — contributed to more than 1.27 million human deaths in 2019. The effects of this bacterial defiance within the human body include increased chances of becoming extremely ill, as well as increases in cost and lengths of treatments to heal.
Although this type of infection is typically linked to antibiotic misuse, such as inconsistent consumption of drug doses or continuous extraneous prescription usage for multiple illnesses, recent studies show microplastics play a much bigger role in the adaptation process than previously thought.
Microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic debris in the environment through the breakdown of large plastic sources and the process of product development, production, and usage, such as manufacturing clothing or cooking with kitchen supplies.
These minuscule pieces of plastic mainly pollute the environment through water sources and airflow, causing reports of microplastic particles to be present within drinking water, seafood, and snow. Microplastics have even been reported to be found at the top of Mount Everest. As a result, humans are exposed to tens of millions of microplastics annually, and the exposure is only continuing to increase.
In relation to the human body, as microplastics accumulate within the respiratory or digestive system, the chemicals released are linked to extreme health conditions, such as weight gain, insulin resistance, cancer, and decreased reproductive health.
There is a substantial interconnection between the concepts of human antibiotic resistance and microplastic presence within the human body. In a study conducted by Nanjing Tech University and Zhejiang University, researchers analyzed the ability microplastics from polystyrene food take-out containers have to contribute to the increase in the human body’s ability to resist antibiotics, and what they found is truly alarming.
When the material of the food storage boxes were broken down into microplastics, the researchers found the chemicals within the polystyrene cells allowed for rapid bacteria resistance to spread throughout multiple genes, otherwise known as the Antimicrobial Resistant Genes.
Continuing on, their studies showed a presence of copper and zinc in ingested microplastics contributed to increased resistance to macrolides, lincosamides, and aminoglycosides. All three of those bacteria are the main ingredients in medication used to treat infections, such as pneumonia and upper and lower respiratory infections.
As humans constantly, and unknowingly, consume microplastics, the rate at which their immune system will resist and reject numerous antibiotics and medications is only going to continue to expand.
Why Does It Matter?
Microplastics have taken a presence in almost every aspect of environmental and human life. These deadly particles must be stopped from entering the environmental ecosystem through water systems and food production to ensure a sustainable and flourishing future for the Earth and everything living on it.
In a world where global corporations persist in exacerbating the plastic production and pollution crisis, too many governments choose to remain passive bystanders. We need to come together to demand our governments implement change by signing EARTHDAY.ORG’s Global PlasticsTreaty, and visit our Planet vs. Plastics webpage to learn more about how to join us in our goal to help reduce plastic production by 60 percent by 2040. Let’s unite and take action for a plastic-free planet!