The Vicious Cycle of Plastics in Our Oceans and Our Health

Blog Lifestyle The Vicious Cycle of Plastics in Our Oceans and Our Health

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9.20.2022 0 comments

Plastic is one of the greatest—and worst—inventions over the past centuries.

Thanks to plastic, products are exponentially cheaper, sturdier, longer lasting, and more widely available. Because of plastic, we can travel across the world in a single day or obtain items that would otherwise have been impossible due to difficulties of storage, transportation, or preservation.

Unfortunately, for all the ways plastic has benefitted the world, it has also done a significant amount of damage to the world. Or, perhaps better said, the way we use plastic has damaged the world.

Spend a few minutes researching the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or “plastic pollution”, and you’ll see that the situation is a lot more dire than most of us realize.

You see, for all its convenience in our daily lives, plastic is difficult to safely and cleanly dispose of. Recycling plastic is more expensive than simply creating new plastic, so most plastic products don’t end up being re-used, merely dumped into landfills—or worse, thrown into the ocean.

And that’s when we really start seeing problems!

Once plastic gets into the oceans, there is nothing to stop it from spreading around the world. Currents and tides can carry a plastic bag from the beaches of Los Angeles to the shores of South Africa or the Great Barrier Reef of the Australian coast. In fact, plastic waste has been found on uninhabited islands never visited by humans—it’s only there because someone somewhere dumped it into the sea, ocean, or a river.

Plastic can break down into smaller pieces and particle over time and exposure to saltwater. When those particles and pieces are ingested by animals, they are toxic enough to sicken, contaminate, and even kill those animals.

According to UNESCO [1] more than 100,000 marine mammals are killed each year by plastic.

  • Macroplastics are larger pieces of plastics (above 20mm), including six-pack rings, bottles, and fishing equipment. These plastics can entangle and capture marine animals, leaving them vulnerable to predators or killing them by starvation or injury. They can also damage coral reefs and other marine life.

  • Mesoplastics are mid-sized plastic pieces (between 5 and 10mm) that are either broken up by mankind or by the ocean’s degradation of plastics. These are large enough to sit on the water’s surface, where they can be eaten by birds (who mistake them for food) and other marine life. When ingested, they can suffocate and kill the creatures, or can contaminate them with toxins—some fatal, others merely sickening.

  • Microplastics and nanoplastics are very small plastic pieces (less than 5mm) that are invisible to human and animal eyes and are thus easily absorbed. They increase adsorption of toxins and can contaminate the meat of fish caught for consumption.

And it’s at this point that the plastics we’re throwing into the ocean (and in so doing, harming the marine life) comes back to bite us ….big time!

When we eat fish that is contaminated with these plastic particles and toxins, we are exposed to a wide range of potential health concerns. Research [2] has indicated that microplastics and nanoplastics can be absorbed into all human organ tissue, where they can become carcinogenic and increase cancer risk, as well as interfere with healthy organ function. They’re also known to be mutagenic [3], mutating our very DNA and causing serious long-term health problems.

Granted, a lot more research is needed to determine just how much of a threat microplastics ingested via contaminated fish and seafood really is. But there are other forms of plastic that have been proven to be significantly harmful for human health.

According to one 2019 paper [4], “of the 906 chemicals likely associated with plastic packaging, 63 rank highest for human health hazards and 68 for environmental hazards”. Not only that, but “7 of the 906 substances are classified in the European Union as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT), or very persistent, very bioaccumulative (vPvB), and 15 as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC).”

One article in the New York Times [5] talked about the “most worrying plastics for human health”, and their quoted expert listed the two biggest threats: phthalates, which are added to plastic to make it soft and pliable; and bisphenols, which is used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastics (harder plastics).

These two plastics are endocrine disruptors, which interfere with or mimic your natural hormones. Research has indicated that endocrine disruptors like these two plastics can:

  • Increase asthma risk

  • Increase behavior problems

  • Lower semen quality and testosterone levels

  • Lower sperm counts

  • Decrease thyroid hormone levels

  • Increase pre-term birth risk (when exposed during pregnancy)

  • Reduce fertility

  • Induce earlier puberty in boys

  • Delay puberty in women

  • Increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 Diabetes

It’s clear to see that plastics aren’t just damaging our oceans; they’re directly threatening our health!

How to Reduce Plastic in Your Life

Reducing plastic is not an easy task! Plastic is everywhere, in everything, and nearly impossible to avoid. But there are a few things you can do that will help you limit the amount of plastic you use, as well prevent exposure to potentially hazardous plastics:

  1. Use natural cleaning products. Vinegar and baking soda make for an amazing all-purpose cleaner, and can replace a lot of your cleaning products—including detergent, oven cleaner, and stain removers.

  2. Use soap bars instead of liquid soap. The manufacture of soap bars produces virtually no plastic waste, but liquid soap comes in and is dispensed from plastic containers.

  3. Avoid wet wipes. They’re made of paper mixed with enough plastics that they will contaminate your home—and likely clog up your plumbing.

  4. Drink from a reusable water bottle.

  5. Install a whole-home water filtration system. Stop buying bottled water, and instead filter your own water at home.

  6. Avoid straws and plastic cups. Bring your own metal straw and travel mug everywhere you go.

  7. Reuse any takeout contains whenever possible. When ordering takeout, ask for no extra packets of condiments and no unnecessary plastic cutlery.

  8. Bring your own bags to the grocery store.

  9. Buy products that are sold without plastic packaging. Buy fresh fruits and veggies from your local farmer’s markets rather than imported.

  10. Avoid buying any beverages in plastic bottles. Make the beverages yourself at home whenever possible.

  11. Change your leftover containers from plastic to glass.

  12. Avoid putting any plastic in the microwave. Heated plastic may leach chemicals into your food.

  13. Compost your organic waste to reduce the amount of plastic garbage bags you use.

  14. Reuse sandwich bags, freezer bags, shopping bags, and any other plastic bags you can.

  15. Clean your house using cloth rags. Avoid using paper towels (which may contain and are wrapped in plastic) whenever possible.

These are just a few things you can do to reduce your exposure to and use of plastic, but they can be absolutely game-changing to help you protect yourself against the dangers of plastics.








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