Harmful Effects of Plastic on Human Health
You already know plastic is a problem. You might know that efforts to dispose of it present big problems, too — most of it ends up in landfills, or worse. But did you know that plastic also presents a huge impact on human health?
From our home habitats to the sources of our most valuable, life-sustaining natural resources, plastic now spreads to every corner of the earth. And it’s starting to make us sick. It’s strange to look at a bottle of soda and change our thinking from “How should I recycle this?” to “How does this plastic bottle contribute to problems around the world?”, but we must.
Earth’s soil, water, biodiversity and even the air in our lungs depends upon it.
5 Harmful Effects of Plastic
Plastic causes harm globally through five dominant effects. It fills the environment with debris, contaminates critical ingredients for survival, causes a wide range of known and unknown illnesses, bolsters the most destructive industries on Earth, and it just won’t go away.
What are the Harmful effects of plastics?
Whether it makes it to a recycling center or not, plastic sheds debris that quickly infiltrates ecosystems of every kind. This includes those most sensitive to environmental factors and already fighting for survival against overdevelopment and deforestation driven by endless market demand. As all sizes of plastics enter natural systems, they greatly affect its life-giving elements by polluting water sources, degrading soils, and polluting air quality.
For example, small fragments of plastic, known as microplastics, often escape from landfills, especially when the wind picks up. Known as “urban dust,” a study by Alice Horton in 2018 shows how these particles quickly end up scattering across cities and marine landscapes alike. Plastic, more known for its bottles of water, also enter bodies of water through rain, drainage systems, and roads. In fact, research from the IUCN showed two-thirds of the terrestrial microplastics that end up in the ocean enter it as a result of road runoff.
Whether in soil, streams or seas, when these toxic additions occur over time, the physical toll on users of the impacted resources becomes obvious. From the womb to old age, chemicals commonly found in plastics can act as poisons, promoting diseases and even leading to lethal outcomes. Another harmful effect arises simply due to the stubbornness of plastic itself. It’s a material that was created to last, and it does — more than we ever planned to manage.
10 Diseases Caused by Plastic
As mentioned previously, we still don’t know the full extent of the impact plastic has on human health. But we do know it causes more than ten categories of serious diseases, including at least three forms of cancer, disruptions to the endocrine system and hormone imbalances, endometriosis, male fertility struggles and problems for fetus development. It’s also linked to respiratory disease, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. And that’s just to name the physical effects. Impact plastic has on wildlife.
Plastic and its resulting degradation to landscapes may cause severe mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. So the question remains: when are we going to treat plastic consumption like the poison it is?
What Diseases are Caused by Plastic?
Plastics can lead to the illnesses mentioned above by infiltrating the human body through what it ingests, inhales, absorbs, or simply where someone lives. A form of plastic called Phthalates, which increase the flexibility and plasticity of materials like PVC (Mariana et al., 2016), impact the cardiovascular system. They do so by altering heart rate variability, increasing systolic blood pressure, and amplifying the risk of coronary heart disease.
With heart disease as one of America’s leading causes of death, it’s safe to say that plastic and its associated “forever chemicals” contribute to cardiovascular risks’ terrifying grip on our literal hearts.
Another critical biological region affected by plastics is the endocrine system. Holding together the body’s hormones and ability to regulate processes from reproduction to metabolism, the endocrine system handles an often overlooked amount of work for our bodies. But it’s not missed by invasive plastics.
Endocrine Disrupting Compounds/Chemicals, known as EDC’s, charge into the body’s endocrine system and attack the biochemical pathways of hormones. Because of these disruptions, EDC’s can even alter gene expression, with the potential to turn a gene “off” or “on” to their liking (Krosofsky).
Lastly, plastics can even lead to multiple forms of cancer. Even as treatments for many kinds advance, the word retains its grim reputation for seizing health and life. Cancer-causing agents (Carcinogens) can be found throughout the air, soil and water today. When encountered regularly within an ecosystem, communities suffer greatly.
The reality of environmental injustice throughout the United States is that higher percentages of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and low-income individuals encounter carcinogenic contamination within their neighborhoods. According to a study from Princeton University’s initiative for Climate Action, “over one million African Americans face a “cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern” due to unclean air.”
This circumstance was forced on Black communities and other communities of color by a history of urban segregation and racist decisions regarding the placements of manufacturing plants. Knowing this, we must charge plastics with the crime of disproportionately harming historically oppressed groups pushed to live in close proximity to plastic production and waste sites. This was demonstrated by the report Neglected: Environmental Justice Impacts of Plastic Pollution created by the UN Environmental Programme.
What Are the 3 Worst Effects of Plastic Pollution?
Plastics wreak havoc on ecosystems. They pollute water, soil and air. They threaten the health of all life, from sea turtles and song birds to every human around the planet. The system supporting their continued production must be transformed, or we will continue to see the effects of our waste produce unnecessary pain and degradation worldwide.
10 Takeaways on Harmful Effects of Plastic
Here are ten takeaways on what we’ve discussed so far about the harmful effects of plastic.
- A massive amount enters the market every year and spreads from the food we eat to the very bottom of the ocean. In fact, it spreads like nothing we’ve seen before.
- The production of plastic massively contributes to carbon emissions and methane due to exorbitant yearly landfill contributions.
- “Cures” like curbside recycling and bioplastics sound great… but they’re not working.
- Differences in environmental education and access around the world mean that consumer actions around plastics will vary. We cannot depend solely on individual decisions to make the changes needed.
- In another instance of environmental injustice, wealthy countries such as the United States dump their plastic waste into other countries. When adequate infrastructure doesn’t exist to handle the materials, the receiving country gets blamed for the wealthy country’s carelessness.
- Plastic is causing a wide range of very serious diseases. While we can identity some of its impacts, many remain to be uncovered.
- Plastic invades and harms soil, air and water quality.
- Through gene alteration and biological interference, plastics are influencing the biological development of human and non-human species alike.
- The benefits of plastics use do not outweigh the harm. What we once considered a helpful technology has become essentially a disease.
- The solutions to this problem are far from easy, but there are necessary and must begin now.
Effects of Plastic on Human Health PDF
In 2022 , Ocean Blue Project created an in-depth report on plastic’s harmful impact on human health. By analyzing resources from academic studies and experts on plastic pollution around the world, this document summarizes a holistic view of the problems we’re facing today.
Plastic and Human Healthocean-blue-project-plastic-and-human-health-report
Plenty of research remains to be done on the myriad of ways plastic pollution creates problems for global health. But we know that so far… it doesn’t look good. The making and unmaking of traditional fossil-fueled based plastics cause dangerous threats to human physical and mental wellbeing in addition to the destruction it brings to non-human animals and ecosystems everywhere.
We are all connected to each other, all part of the One Health system, and we need a better solution regarding plastics. Our current systems aren’t doing enough to counteract the effects of its pollution or its mind-boggling ability to reach the farthest corners of Earth. We must each do our part to recognize the reality of today’s plastic problem and work together to create meaningful solutions. Join A Clean up Today!
At Ocean Blue Project, our goal is to rehabilitate marine ecosystems by removing one million pounds of plastic from the ocean by 2025 and making environmental education available to everyone. Whether you join us for a beach clean-up, donate to support our efforts, or advocate for reducing plastic waste in your own community, we hope you’ll be an active part of the mission to fight the global plastic crisis.