Molecular Biology

The Dangers of Plastic in Humans and the Environment

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"The Dangers of Plastic in Humans and the Environment"
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Use of plastic contributes to global warming, since it is fossil fuel based.  It also has many contaminants that are proven to upset endocrine systems in humans and other animals.  A book called “Death by Rubber Ducky” lists this and many other disadvantages of plastic. 

Plastic wreaks havoc in natural systems for many reasons.  A primary one is that it takes many years to degrade and disappear.  In marine organisms from zooplankton to whales, plastic is a factor in the great islands of trash floating in ocean gyres.  Plastic is known to be made with varying degrees of toxins, many of which accumulate in the bodies of organisms, including human beings.

People are already familiar with the annoyance of plastic shopping bags blowing about on highways and tangled in trees.  They are less familiar perhaps with the fact that animals accidentally ingesting this and other types of plastic are dying off in record numbers, especially in oceans. Switching to canvas, woven or any other reusable shopping bag is wise.

Plastic comes in a wide variety of densities and a wide range of variable toxins.  One of the most common is PETE, polyethylene terephthalate, from which most plastic soda and water bottles are made.  However, even this plastic is not 100% recycled, so it goes on to threaten water, air and soil quality in landfills and water systems. Other plastic toxins are found in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene and polycarbonates of several sorts.  As a general guide, the higher the number on the plastic product, the less it is recycled, and often it contains more toxins.

The chasing arrows symbol embossed upon most plastics is there for marketing purposes and not proof of a container’s likelihood of being recycled.  Most people assume that the plastic set out to be recycled is recycled, when in fact it is not. People are often not aware of the carcinogenic properties of plastic, its links to reproductive health, liver and nervous system damage and its continual leaching of such contaminants into soils and water ways.  

The people who profit by selling plastic have vested interest in fooling the public into thinking that plastic is number one: widely recycled, and number two: safe and affordable.  Thus, corporations are able to privatize profits, and externalize costs. That is, humans and the environmental damage, and its cost is paid by taxpayers in many forms.

This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of plastic consumption.  People want to feel good about how they respect the environment, but they are not told to avoid purchases involving plastic as the first and foremost necessity to protect all organisms and life itself.

Plastic is an amazing polymer.  It should be conserved, up cycled, recycled and most of all avoided in disposable use, except in medicine and scientific research. Reducing plastic use will protect air quality, food quality, water quality and soil quality. These life sustaining health and environmental issues are important and becoming more crucial every day. 

More about this author: Christyl Rivers

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