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I have a regular (steel) pepper grinder but I have defaulted to buying and using the 'all-in-one" bottles of peppercorn with the grinder top' from Trader Joe's.

I am hearing more and more about exposure to 'microplastics' from all sorts of sources. Last night while I was cooking and grinding some pepper into a roue for a cauliflower-cheddar casserole (it was delicious!), it occurred to me: am I adding microplastics along with the pepper?

I'm no engineer or physicist, but it seems likely that a plastic grinder working against hard peppercorns is going to cause wear on the grinder surface with the result getting added to food.

Is this a known "thing" (e.g. concern, myth, stoner speculation )? I've googled around but couldn't find anything.

  • Maybe you'll ingest more microplastic on fish or proteins in higher food chain than grinders. – Conifers Oct 22 '19 at 1:16
  • If you drink tea you've got a lot more to worry about in terms of ingestion. If you're also worried about the environmental aspect, these prefilled grinders lead to a lot more (non-recyclable) waste than refilling, and they work out fairly expensive (but I get through a lot of pepper) – Chris H Oct 22 '19 at 5:57
  • @ChrisH Most tea bags aren't made of plastic. There's no need to try and start a panic about all tea. – Richard Oct 22 '19 at 9:35
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    @Richard indeed, most are paper. But many of the fancy ones are plastic and release a lot more than previously thought - so if you're a tea drinker you may want to choose carefully. – Chris H Oct 22 '19 at 10:38
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    @WayfaringStranger even if there were studies, 1) laypeople rarely refer to them, and 2) those who do tend to jump to conclusions. I have seen it happen countless times, and I'm really glad we have the policy of not having these discussions here. Usually, the whole field of epidemiology cannot agree on X being "good", "bad" or "neutral" for you, but every second person on the street has an opinion on the badness of X. – rumtscho Oct 24 '19 at 15:23
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If you go small enough, you're always inhaling/ingesting something foreign.

Your concern, although logically valid, is nearly impossible to regulate or even measure. We're talking about amount that is, literally, microscopic.

You're definitely eating it, but discussion of the consequences (if any) is off topic on the site.

The environmental concerns are valid, because even though they're small, they do not decompose and collects.

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    Hi Nelson, discussion of whether ingesting something has health disadvantages is strictly off topic on the site. I removed it from your answer, and deleted the comments about it. – rumtscho Oct 24 '19 at 12:53
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When you grind any material you are intentionally rubbing one surface against another, causing the grinding surfaces to wear. So yes, when you grind pepper (or coffee, spices, etc) very small parts of the grinder material will come off as you do it, and that's true whether the material is plastic or metal.

The difference in how much of the grinder ends up on your food depends on the material that the grinder elements are made of, those are the pieces that grind the food not the rest of the grinder's make-up. Plastic is softer than metal, so if you are using a plastic grinder you are likely eating much more microscopic plastic particles than you would metal particles from a metal grinder.

Should you care? Health concerns are off-topic here, and in any case there's no good data on micro-plastics and health so I will not touch on that. From an environmental impact perspective micro-plastics are being found in the environment and in animals, which many scientists think is a bad thing. The amount of micro-plastics is pretty small compared to other sources, however given that you have a reusable alternative sitting in your home (i.e. your metal grinder) it would be easy to eliminate that source, and it would reduce the amount of single-use plastics as well. It's also much cheaper to buy peppercorns to refill your metal grinder than to buy pepper grinders every time.

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  • Unfortunately, it's not always cheaper to buy peppercorns to refill an existing grinder: in many stores these days, your choices are (1) a plastic grinder, (2) already-ground pepper, or (3) don't buy pepper. In Trader Joe's, in particular, your choices are (1) a plastic grinder, or (2) don't buy pepper. (In fairness to old Joe, they intentionally stock only a limited number of items - they're not making any attempt at providing a full range of spices.) – Marti Oct 24 '19 at 17:09

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