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The Dangers of Plastic

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The Dangers of Plastic

The average American produces a half-pound of plastic waste every day; while around the world, 300 million tons of the exceedingly durable material are produced each year. Plastics were the material pegged to change the world; and they have had an amazing impact. But for all the technology and convenience borne from the polymer family, untold perils are becoming realized as well. Just how dangerous are plastics for human and environmental health?

Wading through the confusing studies, many sponsored by those with financial interests in the material, has been a daunting proposition. So hats off to Rolf Halden, associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University and assistant director of Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute. Halden has undertaken a survey of existing scientific literature concerning the hazards of plastics to human health and to the ecosystems we depend on. His findings, which appear in the latest issue of the Annual Review of Public Health, his conclusions are pretty grim.

Because of the material’s longevity, plastics pile up in landfills and are occupying the world’s oceans in increasing quantity. Halden’s study reiterates the fact that the effects to the environment from plastic waste are severe. Measurements from the most contaminated regions of the world’s oceans show that the mass of plastics exceeds that of plankton sixfold. Patches of oceanic garbage, called gyres, are swirling vortexes of plastic bits. The North Pacific Gyre, one of several in the world, is expanding at such a rate that from the first time it was studied until now, it has grown from the size of the state of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States!

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

127 comments

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7:22AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

Thanks for sharing one of the most prevalent environmental issues in today's world...
Plastics...I am a retired Medical Professional and wrote an article regarding the effects of " PHTHALATES " in plastic that affects newborn male babies...which further qualifies your findings...
Plastic dangers to Us and our Children.. - Health and fitness Article - Plastic, Toys, Baby - Booksie http://po.st/feVy5a via @po_st

6:57PM PDT on Apr 10, 2013

Thanks for raising awareness.

10:54PM PDT on Jun 27, 2011

The statistics in this article are depressing...from the number of single use plastics that are used..to the amount of time these plastics will remain until they even BEGIN to break down. People just are way too careless! I think people should be charged to buy bottled water or use grocery bags, etc.

1:55PM PDT on Sep 12, 2010

Vote no plastic with your purchasing power. Bring a cloth bag to your natural food co-op or natural section in your grocery store and buy bulk in reusable containers, buy the food itself instead of the packaged processed version (potato instead of pringle), make your own soda (sodastream.com), etc.

plastic spring

8:41AM PDT on Apr 22, 2010

Please sign this petition to support Marine Health Implementations
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/marine-health-implementations

8:40AM PDT on Apr 22, 2010

Please sign this petition to support Marine Health Implementations
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/marine-health-implementations

11:26AM PDT on Mar 29, 2010

We have to lobby to stop its being produced...over here,where recycling is at last becoming more supported,there are PLASTIC bins being distributed to househo;ds to facilitate this!!!How ironic

7:24AM PDT on Mar 28, 2010

I didn't realize all the dangers of plastic until I started reading about it and it is scary to see and read about.

4:09AM PDT on Mar 25, 2010

It's too bad plastic is so handy, because it's also such a toxin to both the environment and to our health. I've started using less and less plastic - unfortunately there are definitely plastic products that we have to use still, but hopefully alternatives will be found and one day we won't have to use plastic at all! Furthermore, all the plastic that is currently floating around, whether in land or sea, should be collected so that at least it doesn't hurt the local wildlife and leach toxins into the surroundings as it degrades.

6:38PM PDT on Mar 24, 2010

we should stop using plastic bags and make it a habit to bring our own cloth bags when shopping

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