Plastic causes irreparable harm to marine life and the ecosystem, but it also affects humans, according to numerous studies. The shocking statistics we present here should inspire you to forego single-use plastic.
The invasion of plastic
A quick look around your kitchen or office should highlight the abundance of plastic around you: water bottles, disposable cups, straws, grocery bags, food wrappers and containers, coffee pods, utensils. disposables and vegetable bags. These are all single-use products, which are the source of growing concern for the environment and health.
Living without plastic is not realistic, but the following data could encourage you to gradually reduce your use of single-use products and eliminate straws as well as adopt reusable water bottles and grocery bags in cloth.
Plastic production is booming
The popularity of plastic began in the 1950s, and has continued to grow. According to a study published in Science Advances by the American Association for the Advancement of Science , 8.25 trillion pounds of plastic have been produced worldwide. And there’s no sign of slowing down, according to scientists, who predict global production will hit 12 trillion pounds more by 2050. The good news in all of this is that the federal government plans to ban some single-use plastics by the end of 2021.
Plastic is invading the oceans
“Any form of plastic that exists will age forever in the environment. On the other hand, garbage left carelessly in nature will be pushed by the wind and runoff into the sewers and end up in the oceans”, explains the chief veterinarian of the Aquarium of Mystic (Connecticut), Jennifer Flower. “If a North American produces an average of 777 kg of plastic waste per year and the world globally more than 320 million tons, it is the marine ecosystem that suffers the most consequences. This consumption of plastic directly harms marine life including fish, which are an essential food source for humans. Society is too concerned with his immediate comfort at the expense of his health and marine life.”
The countless disposables
Did you know that approximately half of the annual plastic production (335 million metric tons in 2016) was used to produce single-use products? This includes plastic bags that last an average of 15 minutes, wrappers, water bottles and straws. Did you know that common liquid detergents are packaged in high-density polyethylene, and that 68% of these containers are not recycled?
Bisphenol A (BPA) and hormones
BPA is a chemical used in the production of plastics since the 1960s. It often seeps into food through packaging, kitchenware and the inside of cans and jar lids. Studies have shown that BPA affects estrogen receptors and causes endocrine system pathologies, including male and female infertility, precocious puberty, breast and prostate cancers and polycystic ovary syndrome. BPA-free products have become popular as a result.
BPA and obesity
BPA is a disruptor that is known to affect the proper functioning of the endocrine glands, in particular the serum levels of hormones that balance metabolism. A growing body of data supports its role in prenatal and adult obesity .
BPA is dangerous for children
A recent study reveals that storing food or heating it in the microwave in plastic containers could be bad for children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for a follow-up to the findings of a study showing that certain chemicals found in dyes, preservatives and packaging pose a danger to children. This report refers to a growing number of studies that target the effect of certain food additives on hormones, growth and development, in addition to the risk of childhood obesity. The most harmful are plastic containers and cans that contain BPA. Parents should avoid heating food and drinks in plastic in the microwave, or putting plastic in the dishwasher.
BPA disrupts thyroid functions
Thyroid hormones that regulate the body’s energy are also disrupted by BPA. In November 2016, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health confirmed the impact of BPA on autoimmune thyroid diseases (ex: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). Tests revealed BPA levels that exceeded measurable detection limits in 52% of participants who had elevated levels of thyroid antibodies. These toxic levels of BPA had triggered an autoimmune reaction and attacked thyroid tissue.
BPA can cause birth defects and miscarriages
A new study has shown that BPA can harm the female reproductive system, leading to chromosomal damage, birth defects and miscarriages. Researchers from Washington State University and the University of California, Davis found that monkeys exposed to intrauterine BPA were more likely to have litters with birth defects like Down syndrome, as well as having a miscarriage.
BPA increases blood pressure
Megan Casper, registered dietitian and owner of Nourished Bite Nutrition in New York, says drinking from a can with BPA can raise blood pressure. Participants in a clinical study drank the same liquid from a glass and a can. Two hours later, their urinary BPA levels and blood pressure were assessed. Those who drank from a can had higher urinary BPA levels, and systolic blood pressure 4.5 mm Hg higher on average.
BPA increases the risk of diabetes
A study by the American Society of Endocrinology explains that exposure to endocrine disruptors (EDs), such as BPA, can increase the risk of diabetes. It is based on various research, including a long-term epidemiological study, which demonstrates a link between PE and type 2 diabetes.
BPA irritates the intestines
According to a recent study , BPA affects the intestines by disrupting the metabolism of amino acids in the intestinal flora. Irritable bowel disease includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease . Exposure to BPA may also increase levels of compounds that cause colon irritation.
BPA contributes to coronary heart disease
New studies suggest that BPA may be harmful to the heart and arteries by causing arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) and atherosclerosis (plaque formation on arterial walls).
“BPA-free” products are misleading
Eliminating BPA does not solve all problems. A recent study of over 450 BPA-free products in a normal environment (microwave, dishwasher, and sun exposure) found that over 95% of them emitted chemicals (like BPA) that mimicked estrogens. “We are eliminating BPA, but the products that replace it have not yet been the subject of in-depth studies, and could have the same effects, underlines Megan Casper. BPS, for example, which is a common substitute for BPA in bottled water, is not named on the label, although it can cause similar reactions to BPA.
For your lunches or to store your food, choose non-toxic stainless steel containers with silicone lids. Silicone is more durable and more resistant to temperatures than plastic, in addition to being less harmful to marine ecology. It is odorless, difficult to stain, hypoallergenic and non-bacterial. It goes in the dishwasher as well as in the oven.
BPA causes genital abnormalities
Rodent studies have highlighted the impact of prenatal exposure to phthalates, another chemical component of plastic, on the normal development of the male reproductive system. Phthalates can cause cryptorchidism (undescended testicles) and other testicular abnormalities. They can also cause hypospadias, a malformation of the urethra that sticks out on the underside of the penis. And if you are pregnant, beware of plastics!
Plastic and heat are incompatible
According to Harvard medical experts, food wrapped in plastic or plastic-coated containers that is put in the microwave can become contaminated with BPA and phthalates. The effect is multiplier with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses. “Heated plastic leaches chemicals 55 times faster. Thus, the microwave, the dishwasher or the storage of hot food in a plastic container are all likely to increase the release of chemical elements”, specifies Megan Casper.
Bottled water is filled with microplastics
Large pieces of plastic break down into microplastics. A recent study analyzed 259 water bottles of 11 different brands and sold in nine countries: 93% of them were contaminated with microplastics in a proportion of 10.4 particles per liter of water. That’s double tap water; 65% of these particles were made up of plastic fragments, including corks. Opt for reusable stainless steel bottles without plastic elements.
Phthalates may delay brain development
A study from The Journal of Neuroscience found that phthalates could damage the brains of rats. Researchers noted that pregnant rats fed phthalate-infiltrated food gave birth to offspring with deficiencies in neurons and synapses in the medial prefrontal cortex, which manages cognitive functions like memory, decision-making, sensing errors, conflict resolution and cognitive adaptability.
Link between plastic and Alzheimer’s disease
“Plastic facilitates the formation of toxic brain proteins linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Jennie Ann Freiman, author of The SEEDS Plan, a book about her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. “The brains of people with Alzheimer’s have many plastic deposits. Anyone experiencing loss of bearings or memory loss should be concerned.”
The toxic trendy sandals
Do you wear fashionable plastic shoes? This could cause you long-term health problems, according to the study titled Chemicals Up Close by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. She found worrying levels of chemicals like phthalates in plastic flip flops and sandals. Even if you don’t mind the impact of chemicals on your skin, think about the environmental impact they will produce when you want to get rid of them.
Plastic scratches trigger washout
Plastic bits from food containers end up in your food through a process called leaching , which is amplified when the plastic is scratched. Throw away all your used plastic containers. To avoid this toxic transfer, eat fewer canned foods and favor those that are fresh or frozen. Also avoid bottles and containers with polycarbonate (often identified by the number 7 or the letters PC) and phthalates (3 or PVC).
Danger is everywhere
In their 4th National Report on Human Exposure to Chemicals in the Environment, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) researchers found traces of PCBs in the urine of nearly all 2,517 participants in the study. This demonstrates the extent of exposure of the North American population to this chemical. “Finding a measurable amount of BPA in urine does not necessarily mean that these are levels that are dangerous to health.” Further research would be needed to substantiate this hypothesis.
Plastic spoils the harmony
“Peace, relaxation and health go hand in hand with the beauty of our coastlines,” says Brian Yurasits, director of development for the TerraMar Project , which educates people about ocean health. Researchers at Michigan State University demonstrate the positive effect on psychological balance of living near water. “People are heading to beaches and to waterways in response to their fundamental attraction to the sea. The invasion of plastic into these natural places could rob them of the fundamental sense of escape they provide.”
What do the numbers on the bottom of plastic products mean? According to Recyc-Québec , numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 can be put in the recycling bin. Code 6 is the only potentially toxic product, polystyrene, which must be recycled in specific places because of its chemical compounds that can damage the endocrine system (phthalates, styrenes and bisphenols).
Did you know that plastic bags, straws and coffee cups are not recyclable? National Geographic has looked into this problem. The outside of the cup is made of paper, and the inside is covered with a thin layer of plastic which prevents burns and retains the heat of the coffee.
To recycle it, these two materials would have to be separated manually, or with a machine, which is both time-consuming and expensive.
Plastic dust in every meal
According to a study by Heriot-Watt University , we could swallow more than a hundred micro-particles of plastic with each meal, no matter how clean the place is. They would come from the upholstery and synthetics in the house, and would mix with the dust before ending up on the plate. According to scientists, a normal person swallows up to 68,000 potentially dangerous plastic fibers in their meals each year.
Plastic is here to stay
According to a study by the journal Science Advances , 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic were produced worldwide, and 6.3 billion of that ended up as waste that accumulates in landfills and pollutes the air. , land and oceans. If nothing is done, there will be 12 billion metric tons of unrecycled plastic by 2050.
Non-recycled water bottles
The water bottles are made of fully recyclable polyethylene terephthalate. However, in Quebec, only 44% of these are recycled, out of the billion plastic bottles at stake, and about 550 million bottles end up in landfills, according to Recyc- Quebec.
Current statistics state that one million plastic bottles are sold every minute worldwide, and this figure could increase by 20% by 2021. So, give up plastic bottles and choose a reusable steel bottle instead stainless, just like its lid.
Plastic threatens the oceans
In 1975, a study by the US National Academy of Sciences estimated that each year the equivalent of 0.1% of global plastic production ended up in the oceans. In 2015, a team of researchers assessed the proportion of plastic waste produced by nations that border the oceans. The research result, published in Science , puts them at between 4 and 12 million metric tons in 2010 alone . It predicts the doubling of this annual quantity within ten years.
The Great Lakes are bathed in plastic
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency . (EPA), the five Great Lakes represent 21% of the world’s drinking water supply. “About 10 million pounds of plastic reach the Great Lakes each year,” says Jaclyn Wegner, director of environmental initiatives at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. “The Great Lakes are essential to the survival of people and animals. They represent a precious reservoir of accessible drinking water that guarantees their future.”
Microplastics are damaging marine life
“Plastic is found in the Great Lakes in the form of visible macroplastics – bottles and bags – and of microscopic size, explains Jaclyn Wegner. Microplastics can come from microfibers in synthetic fabrics, microbeads from beauty products, or other sources, and can be easily ingested by animals, birds, and fish.”
When they float on the surface of the water or hide in the sand, they are easily mistaken for food by waterfowl, turtles and marine mammals, Dr. Flower points out. It is a serious threat to marine habitats, wildlife and the balance of ecosystems.
Marine animals suffer
There are nearly 700 species of marine animals affected by plastic debris. “We can all reduce our use of plastic to avoid endangering these aquatic animals – fish, birds and plankton,” says Jaclyn Wegner. The Shedd Aquarium where she works has overseen beach cleanup crews in its Great Lakes Days of Action. It has thus supported the intervention of ecological organizations aimed at reducing the use of single-use and non-recyclable straws by individuals and businesses. “Our best testimony to awareness of the problem is to prevent the pollution of marine habitats by straws and microfibers.”
Straws at the heart of the problem
Companies like Starbucks are mobilizing. The company has declared an end to its use of plastic straws by 2020. But according to Jaclyn Wegner, straws are among the 10 most abundant litter along the shores of the Great Lakes.
In 2016, volunteers picked up 725 kilos of waste , almost all of which was plastic. And the damage is not limited to the Great Lakes. International Coastal Cleanup volunteers collected over half a million straws and straws. If you can’t live without them, at least try ones made of reusable stainless steel.
The danger of plastic nets
According to Greenpeace, ropes and plastic nets have affected all species of sea turtles, 54% of marine mammals and 56% of aquatic birds, in addition to causing the ingestion of debris (fragments and microplastics). An estimated 58% of seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, octopuses and manatees are affected.
Seabirds swallow plastic
Marine biology experts estimate that more than 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050. The rate, which was set at 5% in 1960, rose to 80% in 2010. The greatest dangers are the obstruction of the digestive tract or filling of the bird’s stomach with plastic which can lead to malnutrition, starvation and death.
Chemical constituents and marine life
“An additional consequence of ingesting plastic is that the chemical components and toxins can then invade marine organisms,” says Jaclyn Wegner. Studies show that by consuming microplastics, animals cause plastic pollutants and additives to enter their tissues, causing biological damage.
More plastic than fish
Environmental scientists predict that by 2050, plastic will outnumber fish in the oceans. This could have serious implications for global food supplies, as well as health in the face of the amount of plastic in the food chain.
A study has shown that 32% of the 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging produced annually end up in the oceans. To understand the extent, this is equivalent to emptying a truck of plastic waste per minute into the sea. The researchers predict an equivalent of two trucks per minute in 2030, and four in 2050.
Biodegradable plastic that does not degrade
A Michigan State University study shows that solutions claiming to cause the degradation of polyethylene in plastic bags, or polyethylene terephthalate in bottles, actually have no effect in landfills or compost sites. “There was no difference between the treated plastics and the others,” reports Rafael Auras, co-author of the study.
The problem is deep
Single-use plastic has reached the ocean floor, according to a recent study. A plastic bag was discovered at a depth of 10,988 meters. Plastic can remain there for millennia and affect delicate ecosystems.
Coral reefs under threat
The fabulous coral reefs coveted by divers are an ecosystem that is home to 25% of marine life . They are also the means of subsistence for more than 275 million humans. Reefs already threatened by climate change are facing the new plastic peril.
An article published in Science reports on a study of 159 coral reefs in Asia-Pacific in which researchers estimated that 11.1 billion pieces of plastic were caught in the coral reef. This presence deprives the corals of oxygen and light, which are essential for them to reject toxins, and promotes infestation by bacteria and viruses.
Laysan albatross chicks are dying
“The Laysan albatross is particularly at risk from plastic pollution,” notes Sarah Callan, assistant director of Mystic Aquarium’s animal rescue program. “About 400,000 pairs of these birds breed in the Midway Islands 2,000 km from civilization. Plastic was found in the stomachs of almost 90% of the chicks. This plastic is the cause of malnutrition in many of them who rarely reach adulthood.
Floating waste piles
Debris floating in the Pacific gathers in particular in what is called the “North Pacific garbage patch”, the largest of the five zones of floating debris in the world’s oceans. It is located between Hawaii and California, and occupies an area exceeding 1.5 million square kilometres, almost the size of Quebec. At the time of the study, there were more than 1.8 billion pieces of plastic totaling an estimated weight of 80,000 tons.
Plastic bag ban
To counter the dumping of 2 million single-use plastic bags per minute worldwide , many cities and countries have decided to ban or tax them. The US capital of Washington was one of the first to levy a tax to fund the cleanup of the Anacostia River. The city of San Francisco noted a 72% drop in their employment after they were banned. Kenya also banned them in 2017 as did Australia in 2011, as did China.
Plastic emits methane
A study published in the scientific journal PLOS One reveals that common plastics emit greenhouse gases methane (the main component of natural gas) and ethylene (a hydrocarbon) when exposed to sunlight. Researchers are concerned about the amount of plastic produced and the greenhouse gases it causes in the long term and their impact on climate change.
Ocean microplastics outgrow the stars
The next time you look up into the starry sky, think about this statistic. There are up to 51 trillion pieces of microplastic particle waste in the sea, 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy.
The impact of beauty products
There are products as polluting for the environment as single-use plastic. Thus, more than 80 billion plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles are thrown away every year in the world. We see more and more ecological packaging for this reason. Added to this rather gloomy picture of the current environmental situation is a potential solution such as the remarkable work of the non-profit organization, Ocean Cleanup .