Hard to swallow


    Most water bottles contain microplastics our rapid screening reveals.

    Hard to Swallow

    Our new rapid screening technique has been used to show that most bottles of water contain microplastics.

    Plastic seems to be everywhere at the moment, littering landscapes and polluting our oceans. By 2050 it’s estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. So, at UEA, we’re working across disciplines to create new solutions to the growing problem of plastic and microplastics, which the world needs to know more about.

    They are small plastic particles that are found throughout the environment, particularly in aquatic and marine ecosystems. They come from cosmetics, clothes, packaging, industrial processes and larger plastic items, as they slowly break down over time in the environment.

    We’re proud to have developed a new way to detect and quantify microplastics in the marine environment.

    Through using a fluorescent dye and blue light, we can identify the presence of plastics in varying sizes from macro scale to just a few microns. And we can do this faster, easier and more cost-effectively than ever before.

    Developed in collaboration with Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), our new screening approach is a rapid and sensitive method of detection. It is being used to assess the impact of microplastics in water that are then ingested by all kinds of organisms, threatening ecosystems and even human health.

    Our new methodology has been used to investigate the extent of microplastics in bottled water. An investigation, co-ordinated by Orb Media in 2017, found that most of the 259 bottles of water tested were contaminated with microplastics.

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    UEA Perspectives

    “This study analysed more than 250 bottles of water from around the world. And almost all were contaminated to some degree. Without our pioneering new approach, this large-scale study would have been very time consuming and expensive. We were asked to independently review the findings and methodology to ensure that the study was robust and credible.

    Microplastics are accumulating in the environment all around us. And the scale of the bottled water market is a problem. It creates so much waste. Particularly as we’ve perfectly safe tap water everywhere in the UK.” - Lead Researcher, Dr Andrew Mayes

    We’re becoming increasingly aware of microplastics in the environment and their potentially harmful effects. But their prevalence in other areas has been much less studied. They have been reported in tap water, beer and many other foods. And now people will be surprised that almost all bottled water appears to be contaminated too.

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