The latest report published by Pew Charitable Trust illustrates that lack of advancements for waste management, demonstrates that by 2030 this could account for 90 million tons of plastics entering water bodies. Not forgetting the fact that some studies have found plastics in human bodies. It is no surprise that the problem has deteriorated after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic as global attention was geared towards fighting the virus. The COVID-19 pandemic saw an increase in the production of plastics (masks and shields) as protective measures for the virus. According to WRI and UNEP an estimate of 100 countries had regulations for plastics prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic forced many countries to abandon their regulatory mechanism. For example 50 cities in the USA abandoned their policies for regulating plastics. Meanwhile, in Vancouver (Canada) there was the suspension for the fee charge for the disposals of plastic cups and a deferral on the ban for shopping plastic bags for a period of one year. Also, the use of reusable plastics were halted by Starbucks and Dunkin.
In addition, some plastic reprocessing programs were deferred in the USA and Europe; this was due to lack of sufficient finance because most public funds were directed towards the fight against COVID-19. Even though PPE is very essential in fighting COVID-19, governments should endeavour that this should not pose a threat to the achievements made in controlling plastic pollution. Measures need to be put before hand on how to efficient depose all the PPE that are increasingly being produced. UNEP and WRI have been putting in maximum efforts to ensure appropriate regulations are in place in this regard. Thus, UNEP and WRI have outlined 4 rules and licit methods on how to perpetually and effectively manage plastic waste. These includes: Ban on Single-use Plastic, Taxes and Economic Incentives, Product Standards, and Extended Producer Responsibility. However, there is no single solution which is sufficient enough to remedy the global challenges faced in tackling plastic pollution. Measures that may achieve significant result may require both national and local governments to work hand in gloves. This will enable public officials to bring their resources together in order to enhance the development of appropriate mechanisms. Collaboration is very important because there is no global established outline to tackle this problem. To an extent, amalgamation should be extended to non-state stake holders. This is because the best methods to efficiently tackle plastic pollution will entail the utilization of extensive diverse measures developed and supported by all stakeholders at all level of society. A common challenge demands a common goal and effort to overcome it.
Plastic particles are found in food webs due to the occurrence of indigestion of aquatic animals. This has drastically destroyed the aquatic ecosystem. The negative impacts of indigestion on aquatic beings are in two folds; physical and chemical facets. The physical facets are seen when plastics blocks the intestines, thereby, making it difficult for aquatic beings to eat. This eventually leads to death as a result of famishment. This is common among both big and small aquatic animals. Studies have found plastics in aquatic biota; in huge aquatic animals and even in the smallest ones known as zooplankton. This directly have impacts on humans because when they consume some of these aquatic animals, they directly take in plastic particles that were in them.
Eriksen et al. (2013) studied plastic particles in areas around the coast of Australia and found out that, most of the micro plastics in aquatic animals came from gigantic plastics disposed from households. Meanwhile, some disposed plastics are chemically dangerous. They may have in them poisonous chemicals or they may absorb them from other contaminants. The grievous ganger of toxic chemicals is that they are very harmful to human health. It often causes heart problems, nervous system, reproductive system and potential cancers. Monomers and other elements in plastics simulate the impact of oestrogen in living organisms. The United Nation’s Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals classify such elements to be hazardous because poisonous substances have been identified in foods and their origins were traced to plastics. Seafood’s, alcohol and plastic-bottled water are among the highest sources accounting for some of the causes of micro plastic ingestion in humans. Examinations into toxic micro plastics affecting food webs have been multifaceted, thereby, making it complicated.
Findings have shown that ingestion emanating from the intake of micro plastic by humans have been concomitant with infertility, obesity and suspected endocrine dysfunction including oestrogen simulation. In women, this has been noted to be one of the causes of breast cancer. The health hazard posed on humans by plastics predominantly trunk from its components monomers; for example: Bisphenol A (BPA), additives such as plasticizers, or a combination of the two. Despite all these, there is still very limited data on the total degree of effects of plastics on the health of humans; researches have illustrated high levels of (BPA) in women and children. Sometimes, it may cause changes in neurological white matter in children. Long term researches are highly required in order to ascertain the total negative effects. BPA is equally a plastic monomer element as well as an additive to many varieties of plastic. Researchers have found that approximately 95% of humans have detectable serum and urinary levels of BPA.
It is very important to note that, the issue of BPA continues to be under study and discussions, which implies that it has not been completely understood. Presently, it has been categorized to be an oestrogen simulator and endocrine disruptor because it binds oestrogen receptors. Studies in animal science have illustrated the effects of BPA to include: increased postnatal growth, early sexual maturation (in females), sex hormone imbalances in both males and females, decreased fertility in males, prostatic hyperplasia, alterations in immune system function, hyperactivity and more. Replacement phenols for BPA such as BPF and BPS may be harmful to human health and examination into alternative safe materials is highly required.
I am very concern about this because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many countries across the world to abandon policies and regulations that were in place to tackle plastic pollution. The pandemic made all governments across the globe to fully support increase production of plastics like masks and shields (PPE). Thus, if care is not taken or if attention is not given to the issue of plastic pollution, all the PPE that have been produced (and are still being produced) are being disposed randomly to the environment thereby, causing pollution. Also, I chose the topic in order to raise awareness of the health problems micro plastics causes to aquatic animals and humans. It is worth noting that, healthcare organizations make large use of plastics because they are not expensive and because of its single-use sterile features. Some health scholars have argued in favour of plastics because most medical materials and equipment’s are made from plastics (syringe, blood bag, etc.)
As a student studying Surgical Technology, this topic is very important for me because it delves into an isolated area of study in the medical field. When many hear about plastic pollution, they do not know the health challenges it poses to the environment, food webs, water bodies, aquatic animals, and especially to humans. Medical appliances like those used in dialysis, blood transfusion and Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) contain phthalates. This can also be ingested from contamination in food caused by plastic packaging. Even though it can easily be metabolised, the health issues linked to phthalates are: endocrine disruption and malformations of the male reproductive system in animals. Studies on humans have shown linkages of serum phthalate levels, increased waist circumference and insulin resistance. There are verified facts that exposure to phthalate upsurges risks of learning and deficits of attention in children. Plastic pollution has been illustrated to be a concern for all discipline, people, societies and the world at large. This is so because in order to achieve a plastic free world, all components of societies need to come together to fight the common challenge. This can be made possible through creating awareness and intense sensitization.
Essay by: Mussi Tapang
Spokane Community College