These days the proliferation of plastics in the environment is a grave concern as every year 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the oceans worldwide. Surprisingly, we still know very little about plastic pollution and its impact on our health.
The study, Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet is a first-of-its-kind that released on Tuesday. This ground-breaking study discloses the health risks in the plastic’s life cycle stage by stage starting from the extraction of fossil fuels, usage and lastly disposal.
“The heavy toxic burdens associated with plastic—at every stage of its life cycle—offers another convincing argument why reducing and not increasing production of plastics is the only way forward,” report co-author and Break Free From Plastic Movement(BFFP) Global Coordinator Von Hernandez said in a press release. “It is shocking how the existing regulatory regime continues to give the whole plastic industrial complex the license to play Russian roulette with our lives and our health. Plastic is lethal, and this report shows us why.”
The report created jointly by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures(HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), University of Exeter, UPSTREAM and BFFP explaining in depth how human health is at risk in each stage in the plastics life cycle.
1. Extraction and Transport of Fossil Feedstocks for Plastic
The production of plastic requires extraction of the oil and gas and that releases toxic chemicals into the air and water. While producing plastic feedstock via fracking, particularly dangerous chemicals are used, and 170 and more of these chemicals cause health problems including cancer and damage to the nervous and immune systems that are documented.
2. Refining and Production of Plastic Resins and Additives
At the time of distillation of fossil fuels into the plastic resin, toxic chemicals get released into the air causing health issues including cancer and damage the nervous system. Industrial workers and communities living near refineries are especially at risk.
3. Consumer Products and Packaging
Microplastics that break off from the larger product and also the chemicals that contained in the product poses a threat to the health of their users causing cancer and developmental problems like disrupting the hormone system.
4. Toxic Releases from Plastic Waste Management
The methods applied to eliminate plastic waste like incineration and gasification, release acid gases, organic substances like dioxins and furans and toxic metals such as mercury and lead into the air, water, and soil. These are dangerous for plant workers and surrounding communities.
5. Fragmenting and Microplastics
Plastics broke down into tiny fragments and released into the environment which humans can swallow or inhale. It causes problems like inflammation, oxidative stress, genotoxicity, necrosis and apoptosis leading to cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other potentially deadly or chronic diseases.
6. Cascading Exposure as Plastic Degrades
As the plastic breaks down, the chemicals that got added to plastics spread easily into the surrounding environment posing a mounting risk to water, soil or body tissue in the presence of plastic.
7. Ongoing Environmental Exposure
The degraded plastics in the ocean or on land build up in the food chain while ingested by larger and larger animals. The plastic leaches the chemicals contained in it into the environment and gathers other toxic chemicals present in the environment while making its way up the food chain.
The report recommends treating plastic exposure as a human rights issue. Every stage in the plastic life cycle should be addressed and drafting laws with accurate information on every stage of plastic production ensuring transparency in the development of solutions to combat the issues related to plastic production and proliferation.
Organizations that work on plastic pollution have acknowledged the report for its in-depth investigation of the crisis.
“Plastic is impacting human health through every single stage of its life cycle, from extraction and production to consumer use, and it is entering our food chain. The risks to human health begin long before plastic even makes it onto store shelves, providing yet another reason why waste-management efforts alone can’t reverse this crisis.
We need companies to take responsibility for plastic’s effects on our health and the environment, stop wasting time with false solutions and turn to sustainable alternatives to plastic before it’s too late.”