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Does plastic make us sick?

"In general, the life cycle impact of plastic paints a clearly toxic picture: Plastics threaten human health on a global scale."

Plastic is a pollutant of unique concern: persistent and long-lasting, because every piece of plastic ever produced is still on the earth, polluting our soil, water and air, and at the same time bringing toxic effects throughout its life cycle. However, as the world gradually realizes the harm of plastic pollution to the environment and takes actions to prevent it, the impact of this ubiquitous material on human health is still lacking in research and understanding.

In order to solve this problem and comprehensively assess the impact of plastics on human health, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has released an extensive report investigating the different toxicity risks arising from the production, use and disposal of plastics.

The report, conducted in collaboration with GAIA and Break Free From Plastic and other partners, shows that the human health risks associated with plastics stem from exposure to plastic particles themselves and related chemicals. Although previous research only focused on specific products or manufacturing processes, this pioneering research clearly shows that plastics pose serious health risks at every stage of their life cycle and are at the core of the urgent global human health crisis. scale!

Therefore, in order to solve the direct and environmental exposure of the human body to plastics, the report adopts a full life cycle approach, considering every stage of plastic production, use and disposal, such as the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels, refining and production, and consumers. Use and packaging, and waste disposal. The report also emphasizes that once plastic enters the environment in the form of macro or micro plastics, it will contaminate and accumulate in the food chain through agricultural soil, terrestrial and aquatic food chain, and water supply, creating new opportunities for human contact.

For each stage mentioned, the report records many ways in which human health is affected, detailing the physical effects of ingestion, inhalation, and exposure to plastics, as well as the toxic chemicals associated with them (to name just a few examples, cancer, Neurotoxicity), reproductive and developmental problems or impaired respiratory, nervous and immune systems). In addition, the report highlights the uncertainty and lack of knowledge among consumers, communities and policy makers in making informed decisions about the use and production of plastics.

The results of the survey are decisive!

Despite the limited data available and the complex life cycle of plastics, the results of the report are clear: The health impact of plastics throughout the life cycle is huge. There is an urgent need to take many actions and solutions on a global scale to deal with this threat to human life.

"The health risks of the plastic pollution crisis have been ignored for too long and must be placed at the forefront of all decisions regarding the development of plastics. Companies and governments risk our health to maintain the status quo and keep profits flowing. It's not just us. The oceans and marine animals in China are addicted to plastics, but all of us. Although there is still a lot to know about all the effects of plastics on human health, we are already aware enough to adopt the precautionary principle and begin to phase out these single-use plastics."

Graham Forbes, Head of Global Plastics Project, Greenpeace

In fact, the study recommends a holistic approach to reduce exposure to toxic plastics.

This approach should treat plastic exposure as a human rights issue, focus the entire plastic chain, support the reduction of plastic production and use, and draft national and international regulations that require transparency in the composition of plastics at all stages of production. It also needs to ensure that no more and increasingly complex environmental problems arise when trying to solve this problem.

In this case, the EU has an excellent political opportunity to respond to and possibly reduce the impact of plastics on human health through more consistent regulatory measures. As part of the EU's plastics strategy, the EU has stated its intention to completely remove harmful substances from plastic products by 2025. However, as clearly analyzed in the CIEL report, steps in this direction should not be limited to the production stage, but the entire life cycle of plastics must be considered to ensure transparency and traceability of substances that may be toxic or obstructing circulation at all stages. .

In general, effective solutions start from addressing the problem of plastic pollution at the source, that is, reducing the production, use, and disposal of plastics and related toxic chemicals on a global scale.

Download the full report here.


Report: Plastics and Health: The Hidden Costs of the Plastic Planet.

The report is a joint effort of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Geoengineering, Global Incinerator Alternatives Alliance (GAIA), Healthy Baby Bright Future (HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (tejas), and universities Results Exeter, Upstream and BFFP. The report was released in February 2019.

Cover image and graphics: © Les Stone/Greenpeace and David Gerratt/ © CIEL/

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