Oceans are contaminated with debris and landfill sites are bulging with non-biodegradable waste. Marine life is being compromised; fish and vital micro-organisms are sustaining intestinal injuries and dying by intoxication and large sea mammals and birds are being trapped in the trash.
We all (should) know about the dramatic effects that plastic pollution is having on the planet.
While the evidence is clear in the case of environmental damage, it’s less certain when it comes to the possible effects that plastic could be having on human health. A recent study commissioned by the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF) revealed that humans could be ingesting as much as 2000 tiny pieces of plastic per week, equating to a credit-card-sized amount or 21 grams every month, simply from contaminated food and water.
“These findings must serve as a wake-up call to governments. Not only are plastics polluting our oceans and waterways and killing marine life – it’s in all of us and we can’t escape consuming plastics. Global action is urgent and essential to tackling this crisis,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF International Director General.
It’s not hard to understand how this might happen. Convenience culture in the 1990s gave rise to an array of plastic-clad foodstuff. Water bottles, microwave meals, coffee cups, boil-in-the-bag products and plastic cutlery reigned supreme across supermarket shelves and kitchens – and indeed, they still do. More than 100 million pieces of plastic utensils are used by Americans every day, and 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away each year in the UK.
So, what is all this plastic consumption doing to our health? In short, the jury is still out and more research is needed. But it’s not looking good. Initial findings are suggesting that inhalation of plastic fibres leads to respiratory distress, and in vitro research is showing toxicity in lung, liver and digestive cells.
Then there’s the potential effect on hormones. Plastics have been flagged as endocrine disruptors, in part due to the Xenoestrogens many contain. In fact, one study found the there’s a significant Xenoestrogen contamination of mineral water when it is packaged in plastic bottles. Xenoestrogens mimic the effect of oestrogen, and can have a negative effect of male and female reproductive health as well as increasing the risk of certain types of cancers.
“While research is investigating potential negative effects of plastic on human health, we are all clear that this is a worldwide problem that can only be solved by addressing the root cause of plastic pollution. If we don’t want plastic in our bodies, we need to stop the millions of tons of plastic that continue leaking into nature every year. In order to tackle the plastic crisis, we need urgent action at government, business and consumer levels, and a global treaty with global targets to address plastic pollution,” said Lambertini.
How to cut down on your plastic ingestion
- Ditch plastic water bottles and swap them for a glass tumbler or a BPA-free bottle.
- Transfer food items to glass containers as soon as possible. Don’t let your food sit in plastic for longer than it has to.
- Avoid plastic cutlery, especially when eating hot foods as this could increase the risk of contamination.