Who does not consider plastic as a necessity of modern life? It is hard to imagine a life without plastics. But what if we can’t live WITH plastics?
Plastics offer many benefits. From clean water supplies to food packaging to public health and medical devices, the development of plastics and their uses have been beneficial. But not all are good news.
Humans and the environment are suffering serious adverse health consequences related to plastics. Are the benefits worth the risks? It is an important question when we face increase in plastic production along with further evidence that we have reached a planetary health limit.
Plastic: From the cradle to the grave
Plastic is a cradle-to-grave problem, even though plastics don’t actually die, break down, or disappear. All the plastic that has ever been made still exists on the planet. Calling it a life cycle may, in fact, be a misnomer.
Plastic is a petroleum-based product. Oil drilling for plastic products produces methane, CO2 emissions, smog, and sometimes oil and gas leaks. Petroleum is refined into powders, granules and resins. During the manufacturing process, a wide range of chemicals are added to plastic mixes, many of which are harmful to the environment and human health.
plastic workers manufacturing facilities are exposed to high levels of carcinogens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and other toxic substances. Women and racialized and indigenous peoples disproportionately experience adverse health effects results of plastics manufacturing. Sarnia, Ontario is home to one of the largest clusters of manufacturing facilities in this sector, and workers and residents of nearby communities, including the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, are suffering from exposure to toxic gases, chemical waste and air pollution.
Plastic consumption begins when the range of plastic products is shipped for sale. environmental health writer Anna-Liza Badaloo it reminds us that “plastics are truly embedded, intertwined in all of our systems and products.” Food packaging, clothing and furniture, car parts like tires and lights, children’s toys and dishes, and even the cosmetics we apply directly to our bodies all contain plastics.
Plastic waste is dumped directly into the environment, causing harm to wildlife and ecosystems. Some waste is incinerated, leading to emissions of greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants, such as dioxins and furans. Western countries, including Canada, send your plastic waste to other countries, exporting with it damage to human health and the environment.
plastic and health
At every stage of its life cycle, plastic threatens human health. People are exposed to plastics and their toxic components in many ways, with different effects and results at different stages of life, from childhood to adulthood. microplastics they enter the environment, waterways, and ultimately food webs.
Opinion: Research suggests that if plastic were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, write @JANEMCARTHUR11 and @HonourStahl @CAPE_ACME. #Single-use plastics #ExpandTheBan #plastics #ClimateAction #ClimateEmergency
Families of hazardous chemicals, including heavy metals, flame retardants, phthalates, bisphenols and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) —– are directly associated with the production of plastics. Some of these chemicals have been linked to breast cancerendometriosis, ovarian cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, behavioral disorders, miscarriages, reproductive disorders, abnormal menstruation and more.
Plastics workers, such as Rose Wickman, a retired Pebra Plastics plant worker and former president of UNIFOR Local 1987, report miscarriages, hysterectomies, infertility and deaths among co-workers, results they attribute to their sometimes invisible exposures. Wickman and others worry that “nobody wants to listen to the workers.”
Connecting the dots: plastic and climate change
The plastic contributes significantly to the climate crisis. Because plastics are made from fossil fuels, their processing releases a huge amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When plastics break or burn, they release carbon dioxide. Research suggests that if plastic were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Climate change is a human rights theme. Racialized people are disproportionately affected by climate impacts such as floods, food shortages, access to energy, ecological destruction and climate-related diseases and are marginalized in discussions about the necessary changes. Young people are noticing the impacts on their mental health, sharing that they feel scared, discouraged, hopeless and frustrated. youth climate activist clover chen regrets that these feelings are due to the fact that the problem is beyond an individual’s ability to deal with on their own.
Government action on the problem is required. From the expansion of plastics prohibitionsto investments and support for accessible and affordable reusable product systems, to reform environmental protection laws, strategies and policies that recognize the impacts on human health and the environment are urgently needed.
It’s time to change our lens and focus on how our society’s plastic addiction has become a matter of life and death. We must face the consequences of plastics in our body and in our way of life, recognizing that we have led people and the planet into a death spiral. Governments must take action to end pervasive exposure to chemicals throughout the “life cycle” of plastics from cradle to grave.
Honor Stahl is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s ethics, society and law program and is currently a communication policy researcher at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). His research and development of communication tools on the impacts of plastics on human and planetary health have been an integral part of CAPE’s work.
Jane E. McArthur is director of the toxics program at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Jane has a doctorate in sociology and social justice and her work for the last 30 years has been in communications, research and advocacy on environmental and occupational health and justice issues.