Plastic found in the poop of eight people from eight different countries

Microplastics come from tiny plastic pieces in products like microbeads, as well as broken-down pieces of larger plastics.

Enlarge / Microplastics come from tiny plastic pieces in products like microbeads, as well as broken-down pieces of larger plastics. (credit: Florida Sea Grant)

There’s plastic in your poop. Or at least, there’s microplastic in some people’s poop. A presentation at a gastroenterology conference in Vienna this week reported the preliminary results of a pilot study looking at fecal samples, finding nine different kinds of microplastics in the samples they analyzed. The news has attracted a lot of media attention, but the study is so small that it’s worth viewing it cautiously instead of drawing solid conclusions from it.

Concern about plastic in the human food supply has been a hot topic for some time, with tiny particles from broken-down plastics being found in food, drinks, and even the air. If we’re taking plastic in on one end, and we can't digest it, it’s expected and logical that we’d see it on the other end, too. But expectation isn’t the same thing as actual evidence, and this study is the first to present evidence of those microplastics in the human gut.

Gastroenterologist Philipp Schwabl and his colleagues asked their participants to keep a food diary for a week before packaging up their poop in a plastic-free sample kit and shipping it to Vienna. Then, those samples were cleared of all the stuff that’s expected to be there, like proteins and undigested plant matter, leaving the remainder to be tested for 10 different kinds of microplastic.

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