Plastic's Damage Won't Be Stopped Without Awareness of Dangers

Oct 20, 2018

Plastic. It is everywhere. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, take a look around. Trash bins, plastic bags, balloons, storage tubs, cleaning sprays, Legos and other children’s toys. Still need some convincing?

Now think about the plastic items humans use to contain and consume food and drinks. Bottles, utensils, cups. Plastic is everywhere. I know what you’re probably thinking: okay, we get it, plastic is everywhere, so what? Yeah, you’re probably right. "So what" is what we all used to think.  

Now is the time to reevaluate that mentality. Every day more and more studies are released revealing new findings about the dangers of plastic in the environment, in the oceans, and even the harmful effects plastic can have on humans. 

Studies have found that the chemicals used in the production of plastic can have serious implications on the health of humans. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is one of the most common chemicals found in plastics. It is also one of the most harmful chemicals found in plastic. 

BPA is a known hormone disruptor and is strongly linked to a myriad of issues including ADHD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, low sperm count, infertility, liver problems, and asthma. If that is not concerning enough, BPA is directly ingested by unsuspecting humans through multiple ways. 

The first is when BPA is used in food or beverage containers. Some of it does leak out, especially when exposed to heat. The second is due to the amount of plastic in our oceans. Fish and other aquatic organisms are eating broken down pieces of plastic (less than five millimeters long) also known as microplastics, by the ton. When these fish become seafood consumed by humans, the microplastics, still containing toxins, are also consumed by humans. 

But, what about plastic products that claim to be BPA-free? When more press was released about the dangers of BPA, manufacturers began removing this monster chemical from their products. Again, I know what you’re thinking: oh that’s so good! They took the bad chemicals out of their products! In theory, yes, this was supposed to be a great improvement.

Unfortunately, when the National Institutes of Health funded research on BPA-free plastics, it was discovered that most of these plastics tested were just as harmful. These plastics leaked synthetic estrogens, some of which were more potent than BPA, even if they were not exposed to heat from the sun, heat of a microwave, steam of a dishwasher, or any other conditions known to cause the release of potentially harmful chemicals. 

When I asked some of my peers at Hobart and William Smith Colleges about their views and knowledge of plastic in society they all made points about the convenience and accessibility of the material. Although it isn’t necessarily everyone’s first thought, when the topic is brought up it is definitely understood to be a very prominent staple in today’s society and lifestyle.  

But everyone seemed to be in consensus that while plastic may be most convenient at times, it is known to be the main cause of pollution in the environment. I also asked about my peers' prior knowledge of the severity of toxins in plastic and their responses were appalling. The lack of awareness around the harmful chemicals in almost all plastics is inconceivably alarming, especially considering the severe health risks correlated with plastic. 

In the future it would be wonderful to have not just more awareness around environmental pollution caused by plastic but also around the toxins in plastic and the harmful effects on human health. The most crucial aspect of these findings is raising awareness about health issues. Many people already know about the problems with plastic in terms of pollution. However, many are not necessarily aware of the effects on human health. 

This is possibly a reason why there is less motivation to find a replacement for plastic since the destruction of the planet is perceived as far in the future, and people do not have a sense of urgency to change our environmentally harmful habits. That said, if people knew the short term effects on individual humans and the diseases linked with plastics, they would have a sense of personal jeopardy. An awareness of the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and many other diseases associated with plastic would increase the movement to eliminate plastic from our society.

Sarah Shields is a graduate of Gorham High School and has been a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice. She is a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.