Although much is heard about the impacts of plastic, they are generally associated with contamination or pollution and are linked to the final phase of its life cycle, when it is discarded. Now a new analysis, published in the Annals of Global Health, focuses on the effects of plastic from production to disposal on human health.
A review conducted by the Boston College Global Observatory on Planetary Health, in partnership with Australia’s Minderoo Foundation and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, has concluded that current patterns of plastic production, use, and disposal are unsustainable and are causing significant harm to human health, as well as societal injustices.
The review found that the exponential increase in global plastic production is the main driver of these worsening harms, which are further amplified by low rates of recovery and recycling and the long persistence of plastic waste in the environment.
The report also identified coalminers, oil workers, gas field workers, and plastic production workers as being at particular risk of harm. As a result, world leaders have agreed to create a historic treaty on plastic waste.
A new report looks at the impacts of plastic production, use and disposal on people’s health. The workers who extract raw materials to produce it and those who manufacture it directly are the most affected, since they have a greater risk of having different types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and
Plastics have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities
According to experts, the report is one of the most comprehensive assessments to date of the risks posed by plastics to humans, the environment, and the economy throughout their lifecycle.
The commission found that plastics have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, people of colour, and children.
To address these issues, the commission is urging negotiators of the United Nations Global Plastics Treaty to take bold action, such as capping plastic production, banning certain single-use plastics, and regulating the toxic chemicals used in plastics.
The treaty process was launched by countries in March 2022, with the aim of adopting it by 2024.
Plastics have an impact on people and the environment at every stage of their lifecycle, from production to disposal.
Workers and communities surrounding fossil fuel extraction and plastic production facilities are exposed to pollutants that can lead to various illnesses, including reproductive complications, lung cancer, diabetes, and asthma.
It is worth noting that most plastics are made from fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas.
Plastics production caps and bans
Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician, director at the Boston College Global Observatory on Planetary Health and lead author of the report,, there is an urgent need for a global cap on plastic production. Such a cap would allow for some plastic production but would prevent further growth in the coming years.
The report suggests that the fossil fuel industry is seeking new markets due to rising demand for renewable energy, which is contributing to the increasing production of plastics.
The commission behind the report is urging countries to not only cap plastic production but also ban avoidable plastics. Disposable single-use items currently make up approximately 35% to 40% of plastic use, and this percentage is expected to increase.
Jane Muncke, who is the managing director and chief scientific officer at the Food Packaging Forum (and was not involved with the report), emphasizes the importance of rethinking our use of plastics. She believes that we need to take control of why we use plastic in the first place.
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