Updated: May 1
Releasing plastic material in the environment is one of the most significant environmental impacts due to its non-biodegradation and the ability to easily enter the food cycle of living beings, including human beings. A recent research study by experts in the field of healthcare, ocean and the environment preservation has scientifically demonstrated the harmful effects of plastic on every living form of our Planet Earth. On the 21st March 2023, the Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health, distinguished scientific body, unveiled an in-depth analysis depicting the danger of plastic at every stage of its life cycle.
In particular, a series of key notes have been highlighted:
Plastic causes disease, impairment, and premature mortality at every stage of its life cycle, with the health repercussions disproportionately affecting vulnerable, low-income, minority communities, particularly children.
Toxic chemicals that are added to plastic and routinely detected in people are, amongst others, known to increase the risk of miscarriage, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
Plastic waste is ubiquitous, with the ocean, on which we depend for oxygen, food & livelihoods, suffering beyond measure, with micro- and nano plastics particles contaminating the water and the sea floor and entering the marine food chain.
The current production of plastic and its management is still considered risky from the point of view of health, nature safeguarding and economy as well as driver of social injustice. Thus, the Commission highly recommends to set stringent criteria to protect the Planet's well-being under the umbrella of the Global Plastics Treaty, introducing the requirement for precise toxicological tests before placing polymers and plastic chemicals on the market besides requiring timely checks in the post-market phase.
Being plastic-free minded seems to achieve higher popularity. Professor Sarah Dunlop, co-author and Head of Plastics and Human Health at Minderoo Foundation, pointed out: «These findings put us on an unequivocal path to demand the banning or severely restricting of unnecessary, avoidable, and problematic plastic items, many of which contain hazardous chemicals with links to horrific harm to people and the planet. In 2015, 4% of fossil fuel was used to make plastic and, by 2050, this is predicted to increase to 20%. Even worse, as fossil fuel production continues to soar, so will the profound impacts we already see increase even more ».
In particular, containing the effects of marine litter is a top priority. The origins of plastic pollution of the seas comes from the land. Mostly made of micro (less than 5mm size) and macro (greater than 5mm size) plastics, this combination is particularly dangerous for the survival of marine biodiversity as well as for preserving the quality of the food chain. More and more projects focus on reducing the human impact on marine ecosystems like "LitterAway!" promoted by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) in partnership with the Natural Resources Center (Luke) and the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom). Core mission of the project was to count and classify any piece of litter larger than 2.5 cm in size found in specific areas included in fourteen urban districts. At the same time, coastal public authorities have been involved in a targeted questionnaire. Inadequate rainwater treatments, sewage flooding, contaminated snow removed from the streets and dumped into the sea together with the insufficient number of cigarette bins and construction-demolition-site waste, have been indicated as the main means that facilitate the diffusion of plastics at sea.
Dr Philip Landrigan, Director of the Global Observatory on Planetary Health at Boston College, highlighted: « Very few details about the identity, chemical makeup, and potential toxicity of plastic chemicals are disclosed by plastic producers, and in most countries, they are under no particular legal obligation (...) If there were warnings on plastic products stating that their usage could lead to attention deficit disorders, and intelligence quotient (IQ) loss, most consumers would think twice before exposing their children to their production, use, and disposal. But, this is the uncomfortable truth about many chemicals used in plastics ». The expert, who has spent much of his career in studying the harmful effect of plastic chemicals on children’s brain development and their neurological systems, warned about its dangerousness for infants in the womb, young children, and pregnant women.
Dr Hervé Raps, Physician Delegate for Research at Centre Scientifique de Monaco, stressed: « Plastic waste endangers the ocean ecosystems upon which all human beings depends on for food, oxygen, livelihood, and well-being. Besides their intrinsic effects, plastics can also be a vector for potentially pathogenic microorganisms and other chemicals adsorbed from polluted water».
The scientific findings by the Commission represents an authoritative source that records a situation in which it is necessary to improve measurement and monitoring of plastics as well as preventing their disastrous effects on marine species, including a focus on the consequences of the ingestion of micro and nano plastic particles (MNPs) by living beings. The report also encourages the development of new technologies to detect even the smallest plastic particles accompanied by systematic bio-monitoring and post-market control on the exposures to plastics, extended to all industrial sectors.
Improving production processes, industrial design, favouring less toxic materials and using less plastic are among the win-win actions to 'make the difference'. Also the regulatory framework can contribute both in European Union and the United States. The important thing is to act as soon as possible, as the scientists reaffirm. ***
By Maurice Abbati
Springer International Publishing