“I’m not a fainter,” Ziya Tong reassured a team of medical researchers as she rested her arm on a pillow and prepared to get her blood drawn. Tong was giving a sample for a documentary she was making on the pervasive presence of microplastics in our bodies. What was found in her blood is shocking.

“They only took a tiny sample and found on average about 11 pieces of microplastic in my system,” Tong says, adding with over five litres of blood circulating through her system, that’s an immense plastic load.

Tong, who stars in and co-directs her first documentary, Plastic People: The Hidden Crisis of Microplastics, takes audiences on a trip around the world as she consults with some of the most renowned researchers. Putting her own body and home to the test, she conducts experiments and ultimately finds an invasion of plastic particles — everywhere. The film investigates the global addiction to plastic and the impact of microplastics on human health.

As the film unravels, audiences are made scarily aware of the presence of microplastics in food, soil, clothes, blood, feces and daily household items. More shockingly, the film captures microplastics being found in the human brain, placenta and lungs.

Plastic is found in agricultural soil. Photo by © Plastic People Documentary Productions Inc.

There are still major knowledge gaps when it comes to understanding the harm of microplastics to the human body, but recent studies have evidenced substantial findings.

A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine found people with microplastics in their heart plaque were 4.5 times at higher risk for stroke, cardiac arrest and death when compared to people with plastic-free plaque. The plastics found in the study are present in everyday items like plastic bags, bottles, pipes, insulation and medical devices, Stat News reports. Other research has linked microplastics to potential behavioural effects, including dementia.

The film, which makes its Canadian premiere at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver on May 10, comes at an extremely relevant time.

Just last month, as nations congregated in Ottawa to make progress on a global plastics treaty, negotiators disagreed over the idea of limiting plastic production. Plastic People calls out the role of oil and gas companies in fuelling the plastics crisis and advocates for stricter regulations to reduce the manufacturing and the place of plastic in our lives significantly.

Microplastics are everywhere, even in your bloodstream. The new documentary Plastic People does a deep dive into microplastic pollution. #microplastics #pollution #DOXA

“There’s been an explosion of plastic and an explosion of absolutely useless plastic,” says Tong. The film strongly emphasizes policy decisions and the need for government intervention. “That’s why the plastics treaty is so important,” Tong says.

“We can’t afford to wait until you’ve got three times more plastic in the world and all of it’s degrading into microplastics.”

A plastic Pepsi bottle washed up on a beach. Photo by © Plastic People Documentary Productions Inc.

Despite a loud push for industry change, the film highlights a few consumption habits for individuals to consider that can make a big difference. If you turn down the dial on your washing machine to a gentle spin, for instance, you can reduce the microplastics that come from your clothes by 70 per cent, Tong says.

In line with the film’s overall goal to inspire action, Tong was moved to make some lifestyle changes of her own during production. After looking at the number of scrapes on her frying pan, she realized how many millions of microplastics were escaping. It’s the item she has the biggest regret over and one she wishes she had thrown out earlier.

At the end of the day, we know plastics are needed for some items, like medical prostheses. “So let’s use plastic where it’s necessary and let’s not use it where it’s not,” Tong says.

The documentary’s Canadian premiere will take place at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema at Simon Fraser University on May 10 at 5:30 p.m. as part of the 2024 DOXA Documentary Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a panel moderated by Canada’s National Observer.

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We went to the showing in Vancouver yesterday afternoon, and all I wanted to do was go home and throw EVERYTHING out!! Excellent demonstration of the invasiveness of plastics in our world!! And the Q and A following the film was magnificently moderated by Max!! I think some emphasis needs to be put on differentiating between "single use" plastics - the kind that we MUST do without - and multiple use ones - like medical prostheses, car parts, etc.
THANK YOU ZIYA!!!

I am puzzled by the description of the threat posed by microplastics in the following sentence: "“They only took a tiny sample and found on average about 11 pieces of microplastic in my system,” Tong says, adding with over five litres of blood circulating through her system, that’s an immense plastic load.'"

Could someone please explain how "11 pieces of microplastic in my system" containing "five litres of blood" means she is suffering from "an immense plastic load."

"Immense"???

Thanks for whatever enlightenment anyone can provide on this puzzling statistic.