We live in a plastic-coated world. Sure, there are the obvious bits and pieces — the straws, the plastic bags, a seemingly never-ending stream of packaging — but a lot of the plastic in our lives is too small to notice. Microplastics, or plastics that are smaller than five millimeters, are just about everywhere. They’re in the air you breathe, the tea you drink, and even the food you eat.
Some microplastics are easily washed off clothes or sent down the drain as people rinse away cosmetic products. Others are fragments of larger plastic items that have been broken down by wind, waves, or sunlight. No matter where they come from, many microplastics end up getting washed out to sea where they can be gobbled up by organisms — including some of the organisms we humans love to eat, like shrimp, oysters, and mussels.
Here at The Verge, we wanted to see if we could track down some of these tiny particles for ourselves, so we grabbed some fresh shrimp and headed to a lab at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory where Debra Magadini helped us hunt for microplastics. The process involved shrimp guts, ovens, test tubes, and some serious dye. Take a look at the video above and see what we found.