Plastic pollution is so widespread that people may be ingesting 5g a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said on Wednesday.
The study by Australia’s University of Newcastle said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish, which tended to be eaten whole so the plastic in their digestive system was consumed.
“Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, a third of which is leaked into nature,” the report says.
It estimates that the average person could be consuming 1,769 particles of plastic every week from water alone.
But they suggested the figure could be higher because they did not take into account other ways plastics can be consumed such as through honey, fish, sugar, bread and food packaging.
The amount of plastic pollution varies by location, but nowhere is untouched, said the report, which was based on the conclusions of 52 other studies.
In the United States, 94.4 per cent of tap water samples contained plastic fibres, with an average of 9.6 fibres per litre. European water was less polluted, with fibres showing up in only 72.2 per cent of water samples, and 3.8 fibres per litre.
Microplastics are defined as plastic particles smaller than 5ml and may be released into the environment as microbeads, or by the breakdown of larger materials such as bags or tyres.
WWF marine police head Alec Taylor said the report "must serve as a wake-up call" to governments, adding: "We don't want plastic in our ocean, and we don't want it on our plates.
“If we’re going to properly address the throwaway plastic pollution crisis, we need urgent action at government, business and consumer levels to tackle its root causes head on.”
Mr Taylor called on leaders to create a global and legally-binding agreement to halt plastic pollution.
The long-term consequences of plastic ingestion are not yet fully understood.
Prof Alastair Grant, of the University of East Anglia, said he was "not concerned" about the levels of plastic consumption detailed in the study.
“I don’t think there’s evidence that eating plastic particles at these sort of levels is a significant health risk,” he said. - PA/Reuters