Say No to Plastic?
On a recent drive, I spent a considerable portion of my trip following a driver who had prominently displayed a bumper sticker proclaiming, “SAY NO TO PLASTIC.”
On the interminable drive (hello 64E), I started to count how many items in a car were made with plastic. A quick scan of my own car, and I had identified the car panels, dashboard, steering wheel, console and floor mats as all being made of plastic. A quick follow-up Google search (once parked, of course) resulted in my discovering that somewhere between 250 and 300 pounds of plastic are used in cars today, and plastic makes up more than 50% of a car’s volume, though is responsible for only 10% of its weight.
I don’t share my fellow driver’s sentiment regarding the elimination of all plastic. There are so many items made from plastic that improve our lives, especially in the health care arena. But, she’s right to be concerned. We aren’t doing a great job with recycling plastic. Plastic takes 400 years to degrade. Here, in the United States, we only recycle about 9% of our plastic. So, that means about 90% is being landfilled. The study “Production, Use and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made” published in the scientific journal, Science Advances, showed that half of all plastic manufactured becomes trash in less than a year. The rapid increase in plastic manufacturing coupled with a low recycle rate is cause for grave concern. You have probably seen recent reports of massive plastic “islands” in the ocean and the presence of microplastics (MP) in fish and wildlife. As plastic debris breaks down in the environment, it degrades to smaller particles called microplastics, which are currently defined as 5.0 mm in size or less.
Microplastics are found not only in the oceans, and freshwater bodies, but also in our drinking water. They’re found in air and soil as well. In August, 2019, The World Health Organization (WHO) released its findings report evaluating the risk to human health from microplastics. In follow-up, WHO, partnering with other Scientists throughout the world, conducted a data review and assessment of available microplastics studies published up to December 2021 to better understand the risk from microplastics exposure via food, water and air. WHO also investigated MPs as vectors of chemicals and pathogens. Its summary report, “Dietary and inhalation exposure to nano- and microplastic particles and potential implications for human health”, released August 30, 2022, suggests that continued studies are required to fully understand how exposure to MP may result in negative human health impacts. From the report, “Standard methods should be developed to improve the quality and reliability of data from both environmental monitoring and studies of effects. Researchers should ensure that studies on the sources and occurrence of NMP in air, water, food and beverages are based on appropriately designed, quality-controlled protocols.”