While there’s virtually no way to completely avoid taking in the microplastics and chemicals that are so ubiquitous they’re found even in household dust, there are a few easy ways to reduce exposure, according to a Consumer Reports guide released this month.

The most effective way to reduce plastic intake would be to avoid all plastic-packaged food and drink, but according to a Penn State chemist who’s studied the presence of plastic in tap water, beer, sea salt and bottled water, that’s almost impossible to do.

This is a tangle of polyester fibers released from fleece in a household washing machine. Synthetic textiles like fleece are a major source of microplastic fibers. (Monique Raap / University of Victoria)
This is a tangle of polyester fibers released from fleece in a household washing machine. Synthetic textiles like fleece are a major source of microplastic fibers. (Monique Raap / University of Victoria)

However, even the small steps below can help reduce unnecessary exposure:

  1. Drink tap water, not bottled water. Drinking water is one of the biggest culprits behind the ingestion of microplastics, but bottled water has about double the levels of tap water, according to Sherri Mason, who has a doctorate in chemistry and works as the sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend. Unless the tap water is unsafe, it’s the better choice, she said. In addition to microplastics, some bottled waters also have high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are slow to break down and have been found to be persistent in the environment and in the human body.
  2. Don’t heat food in plastic, which is known to leach chemicals into food. It’s much better to use glass when warming it in a microwave. Or you can just do it old school and heat it up in a pan on the stove or in the oven. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends washing plastic containers by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher.
  3. Avoid plastic food containers with known issues. One way to discern which plastics carry the most potential threat is to read the recycling codes, according to the AAP. In a report, the authors noted that the numbers “3,” “6,” and “7” respectively indicate the presence of chemicals such as phthalates, styrene, and bisphenols — so you may want to avoid using containers that have those numbers in the recycling symbol on the bottom. If these products are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” the report adds, they do not contain bisphenols.
  4. Eat more fresh food. Though the levels of microplastics in fresh produce have been largely untested, they are less likely to expose you to concerning chemicals, especially when compared with anything canned or wrapped in plastic.
  5. Vacuum regularly to minimize household dust, which can carry tiny particles of phthalates, PFAS and flame retardants.

Despite our knowledge of dangers posed from microplastics, the production of plastic is expected to quadruple over the next three decades.

But consumers can help themselves by opting for products packaged in glass instead of plastic and use reusable nonplastic containers whenever possible, according to the report.