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Talk to the Expert: Dr. Starowicz from the Polish Academy of Science

Video Interview with Dr. Małgorzata Starowicz, Assistant Professor in Department of Chemistry and Biodynamics of Food at the Polish Academy of Science
Chemi-Joe asks question 1: Thanks Dr. Starovicz for this interview. Do packaging represent a threat for the environment? Do they affect us ? Can you please summarize the current situation?
Answer 1: Microplastics (MPs) are a global environmental problem affecting every ecosystem directly or indirectly. According to the definition, microplastics can be found in utilized products called primary microplastics and/or come from fragmentation of greater plastics forms, which are referred to as secondary microplastics. The sad news is that some studies showed that our water systems are widely polluted with microplastics, which affect marine fauna and could be found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI) of a wide range of marine organisms, from invertebrates to vertebrates. It also means that humans are at risk too, as we consume products that contain MPs.
Shopper-Vicky asks question 3: Can we get exposed from fruits and vegetables?
Answer 3: Vicky, I’m afraid yes. One way that MPs reach us is through our diet. Plastic debris was found in fruits and vegetables due to its transmission from contaminated soil. This phenomenon is named ‘plants - microplastics interactions’, but at the moment the intake of MPs via fruits and vegetables hasn’t been estimated. Plastic packaging of fruits and vegetables may also have an impact on MPs contamination in food and, therefore, their transition to the body. Also cooking in plastic containers increases diffusion of chemicals directly to food, including MPs. Finally, MPs can be a vector for toxic chemicals or bacteria and their metabolites.
It is suspected that MPs can carry chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and pesticides, into the food chain. Over all, it is highly probable that MPs contribute to diseases, although the final demonstration of this phenomenon is yet to come.
Industry-Alex asks question 4: LOOK …down to earth… nothing is ever perfect. We have to package food and drinks somehow, and if we worry about every trace of chemical that exists we will have to raise prices. What is your vision?
Answer 4: Dear Alex, I see your point. Research on MP and endocrine disruption is not meant to go against industry or to discredit your business. We all need food and drinks, and we need packaging. You see, for MPs we are still in the phase of scientific studies in which we investigate the presence of these and their effects on health. And I hope you agree that this is a noble objective, i.e. to preserve global health. We have time, but we need to work together to find alternatives. Did I answer your question, Alex ?
Research-Ann asks question 6: While there is a quite strong evidence of Endocrine Interfering Chemicals that we are exposed to, are evidence on MPs and our health equally strong?
Answer 6: The exact impact of MP particles on the human health still remains quite unclear. I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news. MPs are difficult to detect and measure – you should see again the lessons on chemical analyses from Dr. Medana. Also, the effect on MP is difficult to measure, since we lack valid and reliable tests. Experiments are underway in larvae and embryos. Perhaps the effects are not so serious, it need to be concerned.
Regula-Mary asks question 7: Do people follow regulations on correct and eco-friendly disposal of plastic? What can we do about it? We cannot control each and every citizen 24 hrs a day. What is your suggestion?
Answer 7: Thank you for this question. I think you raised a very important challenge. I believe the first step is education of children and youngsters about the importance of waste disposal and recycling. The second step is having more talks, events and discussions on the theme, such as ‘Cleaning the World’ events, in which the whole society engages in cleaning our planet from litter. Third, is to participate in courses like this, when we have the opportunity to get information from the first hand – from researchers and experts who are happy to answer our concerns. From the regulation and monitoring point of view, I think there should be higher fines imposed on those that violate existing rules and limits.
Opinio-Neil asks Question 9: Finally, is there a take-home message you want to leave to our students?
Answer 9: Yes, thanks. I have some good news. There are efforts to reduce plastics and efforts to move to bio-farming. We are still in the position to minimize contamination if we act with a systematc approach. This system includes the general consumer and their daily choices, but also farmers, food industry, packaging companies etc. This is why this course shows you all points of view. We believe that only a virtuous system, in addition to the conscious choices of each of us, will successfully contribute to reducing human impact on the environment and on our health.

In this invteview you will listen with Dr. Małgorzata Starowicz from the Polish Academy of Science. She will tell us about facts and her expert opinion on the distribution of endocrine disrupting chemicals and microplastics in environment and their impact on food chain. Don’t miss it.

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Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

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