Researchers from Jahangirnagar University have found microplastic contamination at an alarming level in five brands and two samples of non-branded sugar in the country.
The amount is so high that around 10.2 tonnes of microplastics could enter the bodies of the entire population every year through sugar alone, the researchers project.
The research has been accepted by the popular journal Science of the Total Environment and will be published soon, says Md Mostafizur Rahman, head of the research team.
A version of the paper has already been published online: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4066172.
"A recent study found the presence of microplastics in human blood. Now we have found their presence in sugar. We have also identified their size, chemical nature, and shape," Mostafizur Rahman tells The Business Standard.
"The presence of these elements in the human body is a matter of great concern," he says.
"There is not enough research throughout the world on the impact of microplastics on the human body, but we have done research on different animals before including birds and frogs, and noticed that microplastics support other pollutants and act as a secondary vector. So, it is a serious threat to human health," he adds.
The study that lasted for about six months found an average of 343.7 plastic particles in each kilogram of sugar collected from various supermarkets in Dhaka for testing. Most of the particles are smaller than 300 micrometres and are black, pink, blue, and brown in colour.
These plastic particles also include different chemical elements called ABS, PVC, PET, EVA, CA, PTFE, HDPE, PC, and nylon.
However, the research team has not disclosed the names of the sugar brands used in the research. They also could not reveal the way these microplastics enter sugar.
"The plastic particles may have entered the sugar during packaging or processing. They are also likely to be present in imported sugar. So, I think we need to be more careful to prevent the presence of these microplastics in sugar," Mostafizur Rahman says.
"The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution [BSTI] and other authorities concerned can play a big role in this regard. We need to be very careful not to allow any kind of polymers to enter into sugar," he notes.
According to the research, the use of plastic products has reached an unprecedented level in every sector of the world, including households and industries. The worldwide production of plastics was 367 million tonnes in 2020, half of which was produced in Asia. That is why the region is now known around the world as a hotspot for plastic pollution.
The presence of plastic particles has already been found in a variety of human food items such as commercially cultivated shrimp, fish, salt, flour, fruits, vegetables, beer, honey, milk, and snacks.
Mostafizur Rahman tells TBS that with the ever-increasing use of polymers worldwide, there is no room to ignore the issue.
"Since we do not yet have much information about the effects of microplastics on the human body, there is a need for increased research on its effects. At the same time, we should think of alternatives to plastics to save the environment," he says.