Use of Plastics Is Making Us and Planet Sick

By Brad Waite

The use of plastics has created increasingly harmful effects across the globe.

A previous Earth Matters post (see “Plastics: A Two-Edged Sword“), pointed out plastic takes, on average, about 400 years to degrade.  As plastic degrades, it continually emits greenhouse gases, especially methane, the primary cause of climate change.  Such damage to our environment is cause enough for us, as a society, to radically reduce, if not out-right eliminate, our use of plastic.  It is especially critical to eliminate single-use plastics such as water bottles, take-out food containers, product containers and wrapping, disposable flatware, straws, etc.

Single-use and other plastics adversely affect the health of humans and other living creatures.

Microplastics Are Everywhere

As plastic degrades over time, through its exposure to sunlight, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually those pieces become so small they become microplastic particles.  Eventually these micro plastics become too small for humans to see with the naked eye. Those pieces end up almost everywhere, including in our water, our air and our soil.

Health Effects on Humans
Discarded plastic bottles degrading in water

For example, I read an article recently reporting the results of studies of plastic in tap water. It reported 84 percent (84%) of tap water, worldwide, tested positive for containing plastic. In the United States, 93 percent (93%) of the samples tested positively, primarily because the United States uses far more plastic than almost anyone else in the world. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the vast majority of Americans tested positive for plastic in their feces. This is a significant health issue because the chemicals those plastics are made from leech into our bodies, causing a wide range of health issues such as hormone disruption, asthma, cancer, obesity and insulin resistance, among others.

Plastics in the Food Chain

But humans aren’t the only ones whose health is impacted. These microplastic pieces are mistaken as food by a variety of wildlife, especially fish. This not only impacts the health of the fish, but also our own health when we eat the fish. I suspect these days almost everything we eat has some amount of plastic in it, either from plastic used in the production process, to the plastic container and wrapping it comes in, to the plastic plates frequently used to serve it on. And world-wide, we humans do a poor job of recycling our plastic, which is why vast amounts end up in our rivers and oceans. The most recent issue of Central Contra Costa Sanitary District’s newsletter, Pipeline, contains this statement: “If plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050.”

Take Action – There’s No Time Like the Present

I ended my prior column on this topic by saying, “I realize how we all became addicted to using plastics. Most of them make our lives a bit better in some way, from plastic bags at the grocery store, plastic beverage bottles, even the plastics used to make our synthetic clothing. They’ve become so ubiquitous in our lives that we don’t stop to realize the price that we as humans are paying to use them. I suggest we each start by taking an inventory of all the plastics in our lives. Then decide which we can limit our use of or stop using altogether. We must start now.”

Legislative Action – International and Local

Recently the European Parliament voted to ban the 10 most common single use plastic items, including beverage bottles, plates, cutlery, straws and drink stirrers, as well as to require a significant reduction in other items.

Fortunately, concerted actions have also started locally.  The Walnut Creek City Council began deliberating a ban on plastic straws.  Several Rossmoor residents addressed the City Council at its meeting, encouraging the City to broaden its scope to include most single-use plastic. Please consider writing or calling the City to add your support to the efforts on this ban.

Personal Action

What else can you do?  Here are some of the actions I’m taking that you could consider.  I’ve drastically reduced the times I use the store-supplied plastic produce bags unless they are bio-degradable.  I choose to bring my own washable mesh bags.  I now include the amount and type of packaging in my purchase decisions whenever I buy anything.

When I do end up with a plastic container, I reuse it as many times as I can.  Then recycle it when I no longer can use it.  I’ve stopped using plastic plates, cutlery and glasses.  When I do need disposable items such as those, I buy ones that are compostable, not plastic.  I spend a little extra money when I buy clothing and get items made completely of natural fibers.  What else can you think of that you can and will do to help us all?

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, December 12, 2018. Email Brad Waite at bradwaite@com-cast.net

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