The average person now ingests five grams of plastic each week, the equivalent of a credit card, a new report by WWF has found.
Researchers found that people are consuming up to 102,000 tiny pieces of plastic of less than 1mm - 250 grams each year - with nearly 90 per cent coming from water, both bottled and tap.
Other foods with highest plastic levels include shellfish, beer and salt.
Alec Taylor, Head of Marine Policy at WWF, said: “Plastic is polluting our planet in the deepest ocean trenches, but now we know that it’s also polluting our own bodies, through the food we eat and the water we drink.
“This report must serve as a wake-up call to the UK Government - we don’t want plastic in our oceans, and we don’t want it on our plates.”
Plastic is now so ubiquitous in nature that is has been found at the bottom of the Mariana trench, locked in Arctic sea ice, and littering the remote peaks of the French Pyrenees.
The new figures were compiled by researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia who analysed more than 50 studies on the ingestion of plastic by people.
It found that globally the average person consumes up to 1,769 particle of plastic each week from water, 182 from shellfish, 11 pieces from salt and 10 from beer.
In Europe around 72 per cent of tap water now contains plastic with nearly two plastic fibres found per 500ml.
Dr Thava Palanisami, microplastics researcher at the University of Newcastle, said: “While the awareness of microplastics and their impact on the environment is increasing, this study has helped to provide an accurate calculation of ingestion rates for the first time.
“Developing a method for transforming counts of microplastic particles into masses will help determine the potential toxicological risks for humans, moving forward.”
Although the long-term effects of plastic ingestion on the human body are not yet known, some studies have shown that beyond a certain exposure level, inhalation of plastic fibres produce mild inflammation of the respiratory tract.
Some types of plastic carry chemicals and additives which have been shown to influence sexual function, fertility and increase the occurrence of genetic mutations and cancers.
Airborne microplastics may also carry pollutants from the surrounding environment. Britain has already taken 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation by imposing a 5p tax on bags and recently banned microbeads in cosmetics. From next April, straws will not be served unless specifically asked for by customers.
The government is also consulting on a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and under the new ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds will also be outlawed. It is estimated that 10 per cent of the 1.8 billion produced are flushed down toilets in Britain each year.
Some surveys have suggested that Britons use 7.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles a year and fewer than half are recycled, meaning that 16 million bottles are binned every day in the UK. The water industry says the figure is closer to 2.1 billion a year.
The production of virgin plastic has increased 200-fold since 1950 and has grown at a rate of four per cent a year since 2000. One third of plastic waste ends up in nature, and eight million tonnes ends up in the ocean every year.
Left unaddressed, the amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to outweigh fish by 2050.
Animals get entangled in large plastic debris, and also ingest large quantities which they are unable to pass through their digestive systems, resulting in internal abrasions, digestive blockages, and often death. Toxins in plastic can also impair the immune system and harm breeding.