Plastic is toxic at every stage of its life cycle

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At no point does it stop harming us.

In case you had some doubts about how poor plastic actually is, a new analysis out of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has only shown that plastic is toxic at every stage of its life cycle.

The 75-page record is a sobering read. It points out the shortsightedness of focusing on specific moments in the plastic life cycle, rather than the entire picture. We understand that oil refining, microplastics, plastic packaging, and recycling are enormous problems on their own, but put them together and you’ve got a much more dire situation on your hands.

The report shows “numerous exposure routes through which human health is impacted at each stage”. In other words, quitting single-use disposables and living zero-waste does not mean that you’re safe. Your health — which of your family — continues to be influenced by plastic in ways you might not even realize. These include:

  • Extraction and Transportation of fossil feedstocks for plastic( which releases toxic chemicals like benzene, VOCs, also 170+ fracking fluid chemicals into the air. These are inhaled or ingested, leading to immune dysfunction, cancer, and neuro-, reproductive, and developmental toxicity, among other things.
  • Refining and Manufacturing of plastic resins and feedstocks is linked to “impairment of the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, leukemia, and genetic impacts like low birth weight.”
  • Consumer usage of plastic goods exposes consumers to innumerable unnamed chemicals (which aren’t listed as ingredients), heavy metals, carcinogens, and microplastics. People ingest, inhale, and touch these for their skin.
  • Plastic waste management, especially “waste to energy” incineration, releases toxic chemicals into the air, which can be consumed by soil, air, and water, causing indirect harm to individuals and communities neighboring (and sometimes far away).
  • Fragmenting of plastic results in microplastic pieces entering the environment and body, leading to “an array of health impacts, including inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and necrosis.”
  • Degradation of plastic results in much more chemical leaching. “As plastic particles degrade, new surface areas are exposed, allowing continued leaching of additives from the core to the surface of the particle in the environment and the human body.”

Where will you even begin with this information?

In a manner, it should not come as a surprise. We understand plastic is an environmental scourge with actual health implications, yet to view it examined accordingly comprehensively makes the issue more pressing than ever.

The research authors involve plastic vulnerability to be treated as a human rights issue, saying we demand laws that require precise information regarding what goes into plastic goods at all phases of fabrication and transparency in the growth of solutions.

Von Hernandez, global coordinator for the Break Free From Plastic movement, is quoted in the report executive summary:

“It is shocking how the existing regulatory regime continues to give the whole plastic industrial complex the license to play Russian roulette with our lives and our health. Plastic is lethal, and this report shows us why.”

Dire since it might be, we may not let it overwhelm or discourage us. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and this report provides precisely that. Individuals, communities, healthcare providers, and policy makers can use it as an effective negotiating tool when it comes to confronting the companies and corporations that continue to churn out plastic at high prices. And face them we should — especially now that we know what is at stake.

Read the complete study here.

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