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Ocean plastics are a hazard at every stage of their life cycle

Leading researchers in healthcare, ocean science, and social science have evaluated the global human health and environmental impacts of plastic. The Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health report, shows plastics as a hazard at every stage of their life cycle.

The Commission’s key findings include:

  • Plastics cause disease, impairment, and premature mortality at every stage of their life cycle, with the health repercussions affecting vulnerable, low-income, minority communities, particularly children.
  • Toxic chemicals that are added to plastics and routinely detected in people are known to increase the risk of miscarriage, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
  • Plastic waste is found throughout the global environment, with microplastics occurring throughout the ocean and the marine food chain.

“It’s only been a little over 50 years since we’ve been aware of the presence of plastics throughout the ocean,” said co-lead author John Stegeman of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “The Minderoo-Monaco Commission’s work is a significant leap forward in connecting the broad health implications of plastics – to the ocean and to humanity.”

Current plastic production, use, and disposal patterns are not sustainable and are responsible for significant harm to human health, the economy, and the environment. The researchers found that plastics account for four to five percent of all greenhouse gas emissions across their life cycle, making them a large-scale contributor to climate change.

The health repercussions of plastic production have been estimated to be $250 billion in a 12-month period. The experts also estimate that health care costs associated with chemicals in plastics cost hundreds of billions of dollars. 

The presence of plastics is indicative of deeper social issues. The researchers found that fast food and discount stores prevalent in poorer communities are causing increased exposure to plastic packaging, products, and associated chemicals and impacts.

The report emphasizes the need to better understand and monitor the effects of plastics on marine species. It is particularly important to improve knowlege of the smallest micro- and nano-plastic particles (MNPs) and their impacts on the marine environment.

The Commission has urged a cap on global plastic production be included in the Global Plastics Treaty currently being negotiated at the UN. It is recommended that the Treaty address the impacts of plastics across their entire life cycle. 

“Ocean health is intimately and intricately connected to human health,” said co-lead author Mark Hahn. “Our attention now needs to be on creating a broadly acceptable international agreement that addresses the full life cycle of plastics in order to prioritize the health of the ocean that supports us all.”

The Commission reports that these negative impacts could be avoided by implementing better production practices, alternative design, less toxic chemicals, and decreased consumption.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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