15 Mar 2018 --- Landmark discoveries from New Orb Media have found potentially harmful plastic particles in the water bottles of 11 leading global brands, including Dasani (Coca-Cola), Epura (PepsiCo), Aqua (Danone) and Nestlé Pure Life and San Pellegrino (Nestlé). Exclusive testing was conducted on more than 250 bottles from nine different countries, with 93 percent found to have contained plastic debris the size of the width of a human hair, including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
The research – conducted at the State University of New York in Fredonia – reported an average of 325 particles per liter, with concentration ranging from zero to more than 10,000 particles in a single bottle. 259 individual bottles from 27 different lots across 11 brands were tested, purchased from 19 locations in 9 countries. The study supervisor, Dr. Sherri Mason, Chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences, and a leading microplastics research, said: "We found [plastic] in bottle after bottle and brand after brand.”
"It's not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it's really showing that this is everywhere, that plastic has become such a pervasive material in our society, and it’s pervading water – all of these products that we consume at a very basic level."
Molly Bingham, Orb Media CEO, spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst about the significance of the research: ”Every single person in the world depends on water to live – we felt it was important to report on what was in bottled water brands. There are individuals who believe that the threat to humanity from microplastics in our environment is second only to that of climate change."
“While it is still unclear what the implications of ingesting microplastics are on human health, it is a conversation worth having and Orb Media welcomes more scientific research, dialogue and transparency on the issue. We found that 93 percent of the more than 250 samples were contaminated with microscopic plastic particles.”
“Microscopic plastics are ubiquitous in our environment, contaminating our air, our soil and water. While this is not the responsibility of any single company or industry, it is now the responsibility of all of us to consider our production, consumption and disposal of plastics.”
Several of the major brands tested responded by questioning the validity of the research, particularly as it had not undergone standard peer review. Danone called the ”methodology used unclear” while PepsiCo described the science of microplastics as "an emerging field, in its infancy, which requires further scientific analysis, peer-reviewed research and greater collaboration across many stakeholders." Gerolsteiner commented that microplastics are ”everywhere” and "the possibility of them entering the product from ambient air or packaging materials during the bottling process can therefore not be completely ruled out."
Danone gave the following statement to FoodIngredientsFirst: "To date, there is no applicable regulatory framework or scientific consensus with respect to the adequate testing methodology or potential impacts of microplastic particles which could be found in any bottling environment."
"Concerning the study sent to us by Orb Media: Danone Waters is not in a position to comment as some aspects of the testing methodology used remain unclear and there are no details regarding the statistical significance versus the blank value."
"In general, there is still limited data on the topic and conclusions differ dramatically from one study to another. For example, a recent scientific study published in the peer-reviewed journal Water Research in February 2018 (Schymanski et al.) concluded that no statistically relevant amount of microplastic can be found in water in single-use plastic bottles."
"Danone Waters’ groundwater sources are naturally geologically protected and preserved from contamination and all human-generated activities. Preserving the purity of our spring and natural mineral waters requires high-quality packaging, and we conduct extensive qualification testing before use. All our packaging is food grade and does not migrate into the water. Our bottling process respects the highest hygiene, quality and food safety standards."
The Director General of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) Gavin Partington responded to the study as:
“It is important to note that thousands of other food products also use plastic containers and that microplastic particles are found in all aspects of our environment – soil, air and water.
“There is no evidence or scientific consensus worldwide about the potential impacts of microplastic particles on human health. The study by Orb Media has not been through a scientific peer review and has a number of limitations.
“Our members have some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry, with all bottled water products produced using a multi-barrier approach. We stand by the safety of our bottled water and remain committed to providing consumers with the highest quality products.”
The BBC – who are in collaboration with New Orb Media – contacted industry experts for comments on the validity of the experiment. Dr. Andrew Mayes, University of East Anglia, and one of the pioneers of the Nile Red technique, claimed "very high-quality analytical chemistry" had been used, and that the results were "quite conservative."
Michael Walker, a consultant to the Office of the UK Government Chemist and founder board member of the Food Standards Agency, was of the opinion that the work was "well conducted" and that the Nile Red technique has "a very good pedigree."
New Orb Media were quick to highlight that the human health concerns associated with plastic debris is unclear and that their latest research should encourage a more open debate. They also stressed that less developed nations that depend on PET bottles for clean drinking water should not change their habits based on the experimental findings.
The industry debate over plastic production in relation to health and environmental concerns has been raging in recent months. UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond recently called for a tax consultation over single-use plastics, after recent pledges from both the UK and French governments to work towards the eradication of "avoidable plastics." The world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle was also opened in Amsterdam recently in what is regarded as a major victory for environmental campaigners.
Despite widespread global initiatives to tackle plastic pollution, plastic production has continued to increase. According to Innova Market Insights, 58 percent of globally launched food and beverage products in 2017 were packaged in plastic, a 5 percent increase from 2013, while 96 percent of all newly launched water products in 2017 were packaged in PET bottles. And according to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, only 9.5 percent of plastic is recycled and there are already 165 million tons of plastic debris in our oceans.
The full report of New Orb Media’s research into microplastics in PET bottles can be found here.
FoodIngredientsFirst has contacted some of the companies included in the research for comment.
By Joshua Poole
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