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7 Products You Didn’t Know Contained Microplastics

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, measuring less than five millimetres long, usually originating from fragments of plastic wastes. As we dispose of our waste, these tiny microplastics end up in our water supply and in our oceans.

This damages marine ecosystems around the world, putting wildlife and humans at risk both on land and in the water. We need to become more aware of where microplastics can be found so we can dispose of them carefully – but some of the items containing them might surprise you.

Microplastics Ocean

1. Coffee cups

In Germany, we use 2.8 million disposable coffee cups each year. Although reusable coffee cups are becoming more and more popular, there’s still a lot going into landfills each year.

To help prevent spillage, disposable coffee cups are usually lined with polyethylene (plastic). This makes the cup stronger – but also means that the cups can only be recycled at a specialist recycling centre. This means that the microplastics found in polyethylene end up in the earth and our oceans once the coffee cups are thrown away.

2. Teabags

The netting of teabags usually contains plastic, meaning teabags are not fully biodegradable. Most major brands of teabags are only around 70% biodegradable, meaning the remaining 30% is due to the plastic net that helps hold the tea in the bag, made from heat-resistant polypropylene.

What’s more, many consumers think that because teabags contain tea leaves or grains, they can be composted, meaning microplastics find their way into natural waste systems.


3. Chewing Gum

The reason modern-day chewing gum is so chewy is that it actually contains plastic, rather than natural sources as in the past. Modern chewing gum is non-digestible and water-insoluble, which means that no matter how long you keep chewing, it will never break down. This is down to the ‘gum base’, which is usually a type of synthetic rubber, also used to make car tyres.

More specifically, the key ingredient in chewing gum is polyvinyl acetate, which is also used in the production of glue. The durability of gum makes it great for chewing – but not so much for the planet.

4. Foil Packaging

Despite the name foil packets, like the kind used for crisp packets, are not made of metal foil, but metallised plastic film. This helps to keep food inside them fresh, but makes them unsuitable for recycling at the same time.

Foil Packaging

5. Sea Salt

Bizarrely enough, sea salt from around the world has been found to contain microplastics. This is one of few natural resources to already contain microplastics, having been already contaminated by irresponsible waste disposal. 

6. Glitter

Essentially, a handful of glitter is a handful of shiny, sparkly microplastic. Most glitter is made from aluminium bonded to polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Because pieces of glitter are under five millimetres, they are themselves classed as a form of microplastic.

The good news is that environmentally-friendly alternatives to glitter exist. Check the packaging before your next festival or party to see if your glitter has been sourced sustainably.


7. Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts are the most common type of litter in the world; we see them littering the streets in virtually every city around the world, as an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered around the world each year, the equivalent weight of 150,000 elephants.

Because of how prevalent they are, they frequently wash down drains and end up in our oceans, taking their microplastics with them.

Get inspired by some truly sustainable businesses in action by coming along to the Zero Waste Berlin Festival. We have consumers, individuals, and entrepreneurs from a range of different industries who are all approaching sustainability in a unique and authentic way. 

Tickets are currently available to buy here, so make sure you secure your space alongside like-minded professionals, entrepreneurs, and activists on September 17-19. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!


  • Rachael Davies

    Rachael Davies is a freelance writer and journalist based in Edinburgh, with work in National Geographic, Huffington Post, and TechRadar. You can find her on Twitter @rachdaviesetc or via her website.