Baltic Approaches to Handling Plastic Pollution under a Circular Economy Context

Why plastics can be harmful to health?

22 February 2024
Plastic influences on people's health through toxic additives in it. We can decrease its impact by reducing plastic usage in our daily lives and addressing it properly. However, there is also a need for global regulations and comprehensive research on hazardous substances.
Technical details

Plastics might represent harm to public health in two major ways. First, through exposure to the polymer itself, typically through ingestion or inhalation of microplastics or incorrect use. Second, due to the many toxic additives that are mixed with polymers to give familiar plastics their color, flexibility, or other properties. To date, it has been estimated that around 13,000 chemicals are used to make plastic, with the most commonly used being monomers, processing aids, and additives. Out of those 13,000 chemicals, only  3,200 are verified to be chemicals of potential concern, while hazard data is missing for 6,000 chemicals, which can potentially be harmful to health and the environment.

1. Toxic Additives

Did you know?

Plastic products often contain additives, such as organophosphate flame retardants, phthalate substitutes, and bisphenol, which can be toxic. For example, exposure to certain flame retardants has been associated with neurological and developmental issues.

How to reduce plastic influence?

Try to Avoid Products, Containing Dangerous Substances:

  • For example organophosphate flame retardants, phthalate substitutes, and bisphenol.
  • Soon, we will be discussing other dangerous substances and objects that they may contain.

2. Microplastics Ingestion

Did you know?

Over time, larger plastic items can break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. These tiny particles can be ingested by marine life and eventually make their way into the human food chain through seafood consumption. 

How to reduce plastic influence?

Reduce Cosmetic and Personal Care Product Use:

  • Choose personal care and cosmetic products that are free from microbeads or products with biodegradable exfoliants. This helps minimize the release of microplastics into water systems

Limit Synthetic Fiber Use:

  • Choose clothing made from natural fibers like cotton, wool, or hemp instead of synthetic materials. Synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, shed microplastics during washing.

3. Chemical Leaching

Did you know?

Plastics can release harmful chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates into the environment and food, possibly causing hormonal imbalances and disrupting the endocrine system.

How to reduce plastic influence :

  • Choose Sustainable Packaging: Support products with minimal or eco-friendly packaging. Look for items packaged in materials that are easily recyclable or made from recycled materials.
  • Follow plastic usage guidelines: Do not heat plastic packaging without proper labelling in the microwave, do not reuse disposable plastic multiple times, and avoid storing food for an extended period in plastic packaging.

4. Respiratory Issues

Did you know?

Burning or incinerating plastic waste can release toxic fumes and particulate matter into the air. Inhaling these pollutants may lead to respiratory problems, exacerbate existing conditions like asthma, and contribute to air pollution-related health issues.

How to reduce plastic influence?

Recycle Properly:

  • Ensure proper recycling of plastic items. Understand the recycling guidelines in your area and separate recyclables from non-recyclables. This helps reduce the amount of plastic ending up in landfills.

Do not burn plastic:

  •  Burning plastic can release toxic substances such as dioxins, furans, and other chemical compounds. These substances can be harmful to human health and the environment

5. Allergic Reactions

Did you know?

Some people may develop allergic reactions to certain components in plastics, such as additives or colorants. Skin rashes, itching, and other allergic symptoms can occur upon contact with certain plastic materials.

How to reduce plastic influence? 

Choose Natural Fibers and Materials :

  • When buying clothing and textiles, choose natural fibers like cotton, wool, or hemp instead of synthetic materials that shed microplastics during washing. Also, use wooden or glass items instead of plastic containers or utensils.

Avoid Single-Use Plastics:

  • Say no to single-use plastics such as straws, utensils, and plastic bags. Opt for reusable alternatives like metal or bamboo straws, utensils, and cloth bags. Reducing the amount of plastic items decreases the allergenic exposure.

6. Additional useful tips

Participate in Clean-up Initiatives:

  • Contribute to local clean-up efforts by participating in community clean-ups. This helps prevent plastics from entering waterways and ecosystems.

Use Reusable Items:

  • Replace single-use plastic items with reusable alternatives. Carry a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, and shopping bag to reduce the need for disposable plastics.

* It’s important to note that scientific research on the health effects of plastic exposure is ongoing, and our understanding of these risks may evolve over time. Nonetheless, the potential harm associated with plastic use underscores the importance of reducing plastic consumption and finding more sustainable alternatives.