Staggering Impacts of Single-Use Plastic on Human and Environmental Health

by Samia Segal, age 17
Staggering Impacts of Single-Use Plastic on Human and Environmental Health Samia is a rising junior in Connecticut. She plays volleyball, tennis, and also loves to write. Her ideal first date would be a long walk on the beach but a movie will also do.

“From the production of plastic in a factory, where the gases released from the creation of the material are toxic, to the consumption of foods that are packaged using bisphenol A (BPA), the entire process of both the creation and consumption of plastic is damaging.”

Every year, an estimated 182.5 billion plastic straws are used globally. Not only the straws, but also plastic bags and styrofoam cups, create massive amounts of landfill that pollute world oceans and jeopardize the existence of many mammals and sea life in the water. In Canada, there have been major steps made to try and bring the country out of a place of mass pollution and towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In Justin Trudeau’s statement, he describes the issue of plastic pollution as an issue “we simply cannot ignore”. Following his statement where he aimed to create a community more environmentally aware, Trudeau released the details of a new policy that bans single-use plastic and will be fully enacted before 2021. Trudeau’s confrontation was powerful and brought attention to the plastic crisis. It is also a model for how other countries around the world should be facing the urgency with which they should be recognizing the same issue. Canada’s ban on single-use plastic is critical for other countries to understand and consider implementing since its predicted effect on health concerns related to plastic as well as its potential to decrease plastic’s environmental impact is remarkable. 

Single-use plastic has many more direct impacts on human health than expected and can be surprising for many to hear. Through the life of a single plastic object, there are a few different ways in which the object is harmful. From the production of plastic in a factory, where the gases released from the creation of the material are toxic, to the consumption of foods that are packaged using bisphenol A (BPA), the entire process of both the creation and consumption of plastic is damaging. There have been studies surrounding the many chemical additives used in the production of plastic and the consequences of their presence in the human body on diseases that might form in response. In a study done by the Ecology Center, it was shown that the chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties have negative effects on human health such as disruptions to the endocrine system that cause the growth of cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children. The results of studies that show the effects of plastic on human lives can be shocking for those who haven’t previously acknowledged the impact of these products on the health of humans. But the facts of the serious health implications that single-use plastic can have on well-being are much more harsh than the change in lifestyle that can come from removing these plastic objects from our day-to-day lives. While it can be hard to imagine daily life without products such as plastic grocery bags or straws, it is imperative that the health concerns tied to these products are considered. 

Although the concerns relating to human health must be talked about, there are various environmental issues that are also as important and should be mentioned as well. Specifically, one of the main issues with chemically produced plastic is that it can take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to disintegrate. When plastic is disposed of in the ocean and ends up in landfills, it is just staying there and creating islands in the ocean that are made of plastic and not going to decompose since the decomposition rate is so slow. These plastic “islands” appearing in the ocean have serious repercussions for marine life and sea mammals as, many times, these animals confuse plastic pollution for food. Animals like turtles are eating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, which is their usual diet. By ingesting these plastics, they suffocate themselves and are dying with a much shorter lifespan than they have been said to have in the past. These larger animals are quickly dying in the wild because of the plastic pollution in the waters. But most of the time, the only time humans are seeing the effects of pollution on wildlife is when the dead animals wash up on a shoreline. However, in addition to the plastic ingestion of larger animals, small sea life such as shrimp and fish are digesting particles called microplastics that are invisible to the naked eye, but can greatly affect human lives as a consequence. In a study done by Debra Lee Magadini at Columbia University’s Earth Observatory Lab, she shows that the microplastics in animals like shrimp are much worse than previously thought. In a single shrimp, she finds that there are hundreds of microplastic particles that clog up the stomach and gut of the individual shrimp. Those same particles would then be ingested by the human consumer of the shrimp and would cause the consumer to ingest the plastic particles. As aforementioned, the consumption of plastics (whether by microplastics or through the digestion of products containing BPA), the human endocrine system, which flushes out toxins from the body, can be seriously damaged. 

There have been countless studies done, articles written, and demonstrations organized that bring to light the many problems with plastic use in the United States and around the world. However, many people tend to block out the information that is being presented to them through these methods of advising the public. The blockade that is created makes it so that the people of societies nationwide aren’t being properly informed and governments aren’t successful at briefing their people. The feeling of urgency that the Canadian government is expressing is quite apparent through their policy making, however, the rest of the world’s response to their change shows the degree to which others realize the power of this ban. Surrounding countries in the Americas as well as Europe admit that there is an issue with plastic, but they don’t seem to understand how massive the negative effects could be of having such harmful materials used on a daily basis. Having plastic be so widely accepted, to the point where it is essentially destroying the world, is an issue that must be solved, but cannot be with the support of only one world nation. 

It is obvious that there is no more time to thoughtlessly consume plastic products and through establishing the ban on single-use plastics, it is clear that the Canadian government understands the importance of acknowledging this complication. The problems pertaining to plastic in oceans and, consequently human bodies worldwide, is an issue that has been lingering and waiting to be talked about. As a major global power, Canada finally took matters into their own hands and created laws that would be curbing the production and use of single-use plastic on Canadian land. Through The fact that Canada is taking initiative and creating a more environmentally friendly mindset for citizens across the country shows the importance of the issue with plastic for Canadians, but also the whole world. There are communities across the globe who understand and urge people around them to recognize the issue, an entire government hoping to bring the information about how bad this crisis really is, is a much larger step towards change in this world. 

Works Cited

BBC. “Canada To Ban Single-Use Plastics As Early As 2021”. 2019. BBC News. Accessed June

18 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48477087

Bilefsky, Dan. “Canada Plans To Ban Single-Use Plastics, Joining Growing Global Movement”.

2019. Nytimes.Com. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/canada/single-use-plastic-ban.html.

Christensen, Jen. CNN. 2019. “The Amount Of Plastic In The Ocean Is A Lot Worse Than We Thought”. CNN. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/16/health/ocean-plastic-study-scn/index.html.

Ecology Center. “Adverse Health Effects Of Plastics | Ecology Center “. 2019.

Ecologycenter.Org. Accessed June 18 2019. https://ecologycenter.org/factsheets/adverse-health-effects-of-plastics/.

The Globe and Mail. “Canada’s Single-Use Plastics Ban: What We Know So Far And What You

Can Do To Recycle Better”. 2019. The Globe And Mail. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-canadas-single-use-plastics-ban-what-we-know-so-far-and-what-you-can/.

Royte, Elizabeth. “We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?”. 2018. Nationalgeographic.Com. Accessed June 19 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-ste-microplastics/#close

Westcott, Ben. “Canada Plans To Ban ‘Harmful’ Single-Use Plastics By 2021”. CNN. 2019. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/10/americas/canada-single-use-plastics-intl-hnk/index.html.

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