Nearly every human alive today has had experience with plastics in some way, shape or form. Plastic is almost unavoidable, and humans have managed to generate so much plastic waste that it affects the health of the environment and themselves.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, plastics made their debut. It’s debatable who invented the first plastic material, but once people recognized its benefits, it took off. Plastic plays a role in so many daily products, ranging from microplastics in soaps and detergents to large plastic containers.
Plastic impacts yours and the planet’s health in more ways than you may realize.
Plastics and Human Health
Plastics take centuries to decompose. One piece of plastic you throw in the trash today could end up in the oceans and stay there for thousands of years.
From manufacturing to disposal, plastics contribute to human health each step of the way. Producing plastic products requires a multifaceted manufacturing process. Reducing the amount of plastic waste is challenging because each element requires different solutions.
Here are only some of the ways plastic has affected human health.
Material Extraction and Manufacturing
Plastics production requires specific fossil fuels and other materials from the earth. The extraction and transportation process releases toxic substances into the air and water. Some of the pollutants reach humans, which can then cause health concerns such as cancer and an impaired immune system.
The manufacturing process also poses health risks to humans. Carcinogens and other toxic substances release into the air, which causes severe health issues such as reproductive problems and genetic impacts.
Products and Packaging
Items such as single-use plastic water bottles or plastic bags put human health at risk as well. Inhaling or ingesting trace amounts of these chemicals and microplastics in plastic products can cause illnesses.
Plastic Waste Management
When plastics convert from waste to energy, incineration releases pollutants into the air, water and soil. Eventually, it affects human health directly and indirectly.
Plastic in Food Chains
Microplastics enter food chains through animals humans consume, whether on land or in the ocean. Plastics tend to absorb other toxic substances, so the pollution directly from the plastic isn’t the only thing harming humans.
Plastic and Earth’s Health
It’s quite apparent that plastic has a major impact on human health. The same is true for the planet’s health. Plastic infiltrates the earth’s ecosystems, especially oceans, though it affects many land creatures and plants as well.
You’re probably more than aware of what happens to wildlife exposed to plastic. Marine animals often get trapped in plastic rings or mistake microplastics as a source of food.
Animals suffer from health problems due to plastic. Many die after ingesting it or suffocating from it. Land animals get stuck in plastic containers and entangled in plastic ropes. Plastic pollution could soon cause the extinction of many animals.
Plastic is also a significant contributor to climate change, which is the increased warming of the earth. Fracking is one harmful practice involved in plastic production. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions contribute to our planet’s rising temperatures.
Additional greenhouse gases release in the transportation, use and incineration of plastics as well, which also warm the earth.
What You Can Do
It will take the whole world to join together to reduce plastic production and waste, but it can start with you.
Choose to use reusable containers and avoid single-use plastics. Recycle every plastic you can — even styrofoam can recycle as long as you search for a facility that will handle it.
Humans need to be more responsible with their trash. Remember to reduce the amount of plastic you use, reuse plastics when possible and recycle.
Your Health and the Planet’s Health Matter
Plastic has had a detrimental effect on both humans and the earth. For a sustainable future, begin caring for the environment now. Gather friends and family and teach them about the impacts of plastic, so their health and the planet’s health improves.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where
she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.