Microplastics in the salt cellar – What you need to know

A recent study has revealed that microplastics can now be found in 90% of the table salt brands sampled worldwide. That’s definitely not a good thing. 

Microplastics are small plastic pieces that are less than five millimetres long or about the size of a sesame seed. They come from various sources, including larger pieces of plastic debris degrading into smaller and smaller, as well as from synthetic fibres and microbeads from personal hygiene products.

The study published in this month’s Environmental Science &Technology tested 39 salt brands worldwide, and the analyses showed that 36 of them contained microplastics. The previous studies have shown microplastics in sea salt, however the exact extent of microplastics in this common cupboard staple remained unclear. As National Geographic writes:

“Using prior salt studies, this new effort is the first of its scale to look at the geographical spread of microplastics in table salt and their correlation to where plastic pollution is found in the environment.”

The research examined salt samples from 21 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. The three brands from 39 that did not contain microplastics are from Taiwan (refined sea salt), China (refined rock salt), and France (unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation). Furthermore, Asia, in particular Indonesia, overall has the highest quantities of microplastics in salt.

In an unrelated 2015 study it was found that Indonesia has the world’s second-highest level of plastic pollution. The study also notes that microplastics levels were highest in sea salt, followed by lake salt and then rock salt. As Seung-Kyu Kim, a co-author of the study, noted to National Geographic:

“The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region.”

The microplastics have been found not only in salt, but also in various marine products, beer, honey and most importantly in bottled water. The average adult consumes approximately 2,000 microplastics per year, and quoting National Geographic, “What that means remains a mystery.”

While plastic pollution is far bigger than we can yet fully understand, and more data is needed to understand the harm of microplastics in environment and our bodies, there are steps that each individual can take to reduce further plastic and microplastic pollution.

Learn more about what you can do about microplastics and how to reduce your plastic pollution.