Plastic Is Bad for the Environment and Your Health

Today, plastic is everywhere. It’s in toothbrushes and disposable coffee cups. It’s in electronics and kitchenware. It’s even in diapers and cigarette filters.

No surprise then that in the last decade or so, we’ve produced over 4 billion tons of plastic, or about half of the total quantity of plastic ever manufactured.

And here’s the really bad news – less than 10% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. The rest has filled trash dumps and landfills, littered beaches, and polluted the oceans, creating immense garbage patches that threaten even remote ecosystems.

Why Plastic Is Bad for the Environment

Plastics take an awfully long time to decompose, whether we’re talking about plastics in landfills or in the sea.

  • Plastic bottles and plastic cups need about 450 years to decompose.

  • Plastic toothbrushes, coffee pods, and disposable diapers are even worse – they take around 500 years.

  • Even a seemingly innocent plastic straw needs about 200 years to decay.

Over time, plastics break into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. Whales, corals, turtles, seabirds, and other animals ingest these, mistaking them for food. Microplastics can contain a lot of harmful chemicals.

These chemicals can have far-reaching effects on animals. It can impair their reproduction and reduce their lifespan. Even when microplastics are not ingested, they remain a persistent source of pollution.

Plastics also cause entanglement when animals get caught in plastic debris and are unable to liberate themselves. Many entangled animals die from suffocation or starvation.

Plastics contaminate the land as well. Chlorinated plastics, in particular, release harmful pollutants in the soil and in groundwater.

To make matters worse, plastic contributes to the global increase in greenhouse gas emissions. According to a 2019 CIEL report, plastics will be responsible for the release of 850 million tons of CO2 in 2019 alone, with emissions predicted to increase exponentially in the years to come.

Why Plastic Is Bad for Your Health

Plastic may have been invented to make our lives easier and reduce manufacturing costs, but our over-reliance on it can have adverse effects on our health.

We ingest and inhale plastic every day. Our bodies come into contact with it through the products we use or through water, air, or soil.

The process of manufacturing plastic itself also causes harmful emissions and environmental pollution.

  • Plastics contain endocrine disruptors and potential carcinogens such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and persistent organic pollutants. Studies have found that most adults in the USA have detectable levels of BPA in their urine.

  • We eat seafood that has ingested microplastics, or that has been contaminated by harmful chemicals in plastic. Plastic-contaminated seafood can interfere with brain development in children.

  • We absorb polyester, acrylic, nylon, and other synthetic plastic fibers through our skin. With them, our skin absorbs the many harmful chemicals used to treat these fibers during production.

  • We breathe in dioxin released into the air by the burning of plastic waste in dumps and incinerators. This problem is prevalent in regions with poor waste management, where burning waste is a common practice.

In short, plastic has far-reaching health implications, some of which we are only now beginning to understand.

Plastic can affect the immune system, sensory organs, and renal function. It can contribute to cardiovascular, neurological, and reproductive disorders. It can also contribute to diabetes and cancer.

The impact of plastic on public health cannot be ignored.

What You Can Do

Plastic is all around you, but that doesn’t mean you have to be addicted to it.

Even if you’re not able to say no to all plastic in your life – after all, you’re probably reading this on a device that contains plastic derivatives, surrounded by at least a few plastic objects – you can still gradually reduce the amount of plastic you use every day.

And, of course, you can recycle more of your plastic and raise awareness about its harmful effects on both the environment and humans.

Here are some ideas to reduce plastic usage in your life and contribute to a cleaner, healthier planet.

  • Avoid using plastic items that contain harmful chemicals. Shop for BPA-free plastic bottles and food containers. Use ceramic pans and pots instead of nonstick, plastic-coated ones. Last but not least, choose phthalate-free packaging films.

  • Get a reusable water bottle and a reusable coffee cup. Say no to plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. Every day. Without exception.

  • Buy clothes made of organic fibers and other non-synthetic alternatives. Many emerging brands offer affordable alternatives to polyester or nylon fabrics.

  • Recycle plastic instead of merely throwing it away. Keep an eye out for any local plastic recycling programs. If you don’t have other options, go the extra mile and take your plastic waste to the nearest recycling facility once or twice a month.

  • Choose to buy products sold in plastic-free packaging. Today, an increasing number of manufacturers and retailers use environmentally friendly packaging.

    Choose eco-friendly substitutes for plastic. These include but are not limited to glass, bioplastics, PLA polyesters, or starch-based polymers.

The Wrap Up

At the end of the day, you can say that it’s not plastic itself that’s the real threat to the environment and our health but rather how we use it.

We overuse plastic because it’s convenient and widely available. And that’s something we have to change, one product at a time.

Start with all the unnecessary plastic in your life – plastic bottles, disposable coffee cups, plastic bags, and the like. Substitute them with sustainable alternatives.

Reduce and even eliminate plastic from your life – do it for the planet, for your health, and for future generations.