When synthetic plastic was first invented in 1807, there was no way of knowing the long-term effects such a revolutionary manufacturing innovation would have on the environment and on human health. However, over two hundred years later, we finally have the resources and data to analyse the wide-reaching effects of plastics across their entire life cycle, and the results spell out doom and gloom if swift and serious action is not taken.
While there’s no denying that plastics have advanced manufacturing across almost every industry and vastly simplified complicated processes, we are now starting to discover the full detrimental effects they have on our health and our environment. A recent study conducted by the Boston College Global Observatory on Planetary Health, in partnership with Australia’s Minderoo Foundation and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, confirmed long-running suspicions and fears that plastics are responsible for wide-ranging health impacts on humans, including cancers, lung disease and birth defects.
Plastic materials release toxins such as additives and residual monomers into the environment and consumers when in use and when discarded. These chemicals, according to the study, have been proven to increase the risk of premature births, neurodevelopmental disorders, male reproductive birth defects, infertility, obesity, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, and cancers. While there have been previous suspicions that plastic causes cancer, these landmark findings have finally armed environmentalists with the proof they need to demand action in the name of human health.
However, the study’s findings aren’t a ‘win’ for anyone. It determined that workers, specifically oil workers, coalminers and gas field workers, are some of the individuals most severely affected. These laborers extract the raw fossil carbon materials necessary for plastic production. Of course, those working in actual plastic manufacturing were also at high risk. Leukaemia, lymphoma, brain, breast and lung, cancer, mesothelioma, decreased fertility, cardiovascular disease, toxic metal poisoning, neuropathy, and lung cancer all formed a long and concerning list of common health hazards experienced by individuals working in these fields.
Those residing in communities neighbouring plastic production and waste disposal sites were found to suffer from increased risks of premature birth, asthma, childhood leukaemia, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. The study was also determined that the pre-born and young children were most affected.
Most of us are familiar with the gravely detrimental effects of plastic production and disposal on the environment. However, these undeniable findings are now raising alarm bells for those in the medical field, mothers, workers, pregnant individuals, and lawmakers. While climate change is something many still need to be convinced of, the reality of the threat of cancer and carcinogens is not. Will this spell out a new age (and a new rage) in the fight against plastic use?
The authors of the study believe the answer should be unanimous. They recommend that a global plastics treaty be designed to control the manufacture and use of plastics and to reduce health hazards and environmental impacts. Brand owners can already get ahead of this potential legal crackdown by adopting Upcycled Packaging, which is healthier, more sustainable, and prioritises the climate without compromising on profit.
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