It's everywhere, and it's unhealthy. // 5 Health Effects Associated with Plastic

Written by Samantha Sette

Summer is in full swing, which means full send on venti cold brews. Though when over 500 million plastic straws are used every day in the U.S. alone, it’s hard to imagine how that daily coffee fix translates into plastic waste. Maybe more of our attention should go not towards how many Starbucks rewards we can earn this month, but how we can do more for our environment and health by using less.

Single-use or plastics are used once before they are thrown away or recycled. They also constitute for nearly half of the annual plastic production! This includes the plastic cups, straws, water bottles, and shopping bags we use on a daily basis, amongst other items.

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You might be asking yourself - So what? 

Nearly every piece of plastic produced still exists in some shape or form on this earth. In other words, plastics are not biodegradable. Instead, they slowly break down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics - a process that takes up to 1,000 years!

Yet plastic is everywhere, from piled up in landfills, to coasting across oceans, to even flowing in your bloodstream. To put this in perspective, we consume about 2,000 pieces of microplastic per week - the equivalent to ingesting one credit card every week. 

Actor and environmental enthusiast Jeb Berrier put it perfectly, “Think about it. Why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away. What’s up with that?” 

To combat this problem, Plastic Free July was created to promote alternatives for single-use plastic products. Originating in Australia, the campaign is now one of the most influential of its kind in the world, encouraging sustainable practices far beyond the month of July. If it takes 30 days to form a habit, this challenge might just launch your new sustainable lifestyle.

There are so many small ways to get started in becoming part of the solution to plastic waste reduction. Sustainability expert, GOOD Fest Philly speaker, and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good, Live Better, Save the Planet Ashlee Piper shares some tips on how to reduce plastic usage on a day-to-day basis:

“My favorite way is to start with what's easy and sacrifice-free for you- that way, the change will stick. I have a friend who started with just bringing her reusable to get coffee every morning. No reusable, no coffee. And she stuck with it for a month and it became an easy habit that translated to other parts of her life. For some, it's refusing a straw when you're out and about. For others, it's abstaining from consuming any plastic at all.”

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Proof in the power of habit! And further proof that little acts of kindness to the Earth can go a long way.

So you decide to cave and finally buy a metal reusable straw - a major first step towards reducing your consumption of single-use plastic! But when it comes to sustainability, we can’t help but think - what does this have to do with me?

There are many misconceptions people have about sustainability and how it impacts them as an individual. “I think the primary one is that what we do doesn’t matter,” Ashlee adds, “That whole starfish on the shore thing. That the problem is too enormous (or to some, that it doesn't exist) and nothing we do makes a dent. And we know that statistically and scientifically, that's simply not true.”

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Much is already known about the accumulation of plastic waste across oceans and the consequent pollution that poses a serious threat to marine life. Think about it - how many times have you heard someone blurt that they’re saving the turtles after practicing a small but notable act of sustainability?

Where less attention is garnered, however, is on how the same toxins that are destroying the coral reefs are creating a detrimental impact on human health. So yes - reducing plastic use has a lot more to do with us as people than we previously thought!

From production to degradation, chemicals contained in plastic products pose a risk to human health at every stage of its lifecycle, from production to degradation. How does this work? Toxins are released during initial extraction and production of plastics. By incorporating harmful additives into products, the risk of exposure continues during product use. After disposal and degradation, chemicals can then invade the human body directly via tiny microplastic fragments. 

Research conducted thus far has concentrated most of its attention towards phthalates - a group of chemicals used extensively in plastic production - and bisphenol A - an additive used in plastics, otherwise known as BPA. Although the FDA claims that these chemicals are safe at low levels, even minimal contact and usage accounts for the fact that an alarming 93% of age six and older test positive for BPA. That’s just one of many chemical invaders used during plastic production!

And the effects of said toxins on human health are highly concerning.

Many of the chemicals found in plastic are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or EDCs, meaning that they directly interfere with hormonal activity. Considering the wide array of hormonal functions in the body, the implications are numerous.

Here are 5 health effects associated with plastic use and production:

Metabolic disorders

By directly interfering with regular hormonal activity, EDCs found in plastic can disrupt hormones that regulate metabolism. In addition, industrial chemicals used during production can hinder the body’s energy levels by damaging the thyroid. The combination of these effects provides growing evidence that link EDCs to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Reproductive damage

EDCs also interfere with male and female sex hormones, thus interfering with reproductive health. This can wreak havoc on...including infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Growth and development problems

In conjunction with reproductive damage, the disruption of sex hormones can initiate developmental problems, such as early onset of puberty. In addition, high exposure to EDCs during gestation have been associated with low birth weight, amongst other plausible birth defects.

Immune system suppression

By hindering thyroid function, the same industrial chemicals that can inhibit energy regulation have been linked to autoimmune thyroid disorders. By elevating antibody levels, toxic levels of these chemicals can suppress the immune system and weaken the body’s ability to fight off disease.

Cancer

Many of the chemicals involved with plastic use and production are carcinogens, substances that cause cancer. 

So yeah, you can say that our sustainability practices have consequences that span beyond the oceans into the core of our health and well-being.

Ashlee sums it up perfectly. “That said, if we have the power to f*ck shit up, we also have the power to turn things around, or at the very least, stop the bleeding. And that all starts with the little things we do. Because those little things ladder up to bigger things and those bigger things become full-scale movements.”

The calendar month should serve no discretion – start your very own Plastic Free July, today.

For more on sustainability and a shift in the conversation about health, join speaker Ashlee Piper and others at the GOOD Fest Philly Pop-Up on Sunday, September 22, 2019. [GOOD] creates real, welcoming experiences that expand the definition of wellness. Get your tickets here!

The GOOD Festival LLC