There are over 3 million pounds of nuclear waste stored just 100 feet away from a beach at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Congressman Mike Levin ...
Plastic is in everything, from the clothes we wear to the water we drink. John Oliver explains how plastics are harming the planet.
Under the pretense of a circular economy, plastic is being dumped in places where it shouldn't be – such as horse riding arenas, football fields and children's playgrounds. In this episode on the Plastic Health Channel, scientists question whether playing on these fields and playgrounds is actually safe.
Plastics: we can't live without them, or so it seems.
While using plastics in some cases may be unavoidable, we can take steps to reduce our constant consumption and discarding of the chemical-laced material.
The U.S. produces 234 pounds of plastic waste per person per year, and hardly any of it is recycled.
Here's a comprehensive introduction to plastic waste and plastic pollution, how we got here, and what we can do about it.
An excavator pushes through a landfill. About 79% of plastic is ending up in landfills or as litter in our environment. (Credit: Tom Fisk/Pexels)
Plastics are an untamed and unmanaged beast:
Two marketing strategies employed by the plastics industry have successfully propelled plastic to regular household use:
These strategies, along with the lack of legislation preventing mass consumption, have caused single-use plastics to flourish.
Food in disposable plastic packaging is a common sight in grocery stores.
Throwaway culture is a modern phenomenon that was slowly impressed upon the consumer after the Great Depression and war-era years of frugality. Through advertisement, the plastics industry had to convince the public that single-use plastics were possible, acceptable, and even necessary.
Today it's hard to imagine a world without single-use plastics: our "to-go," "hustle," and "convenience" cultures have adopted and even celebrated the ease of disposables.
In detail: This captivating article by Rebecca Altman highlights the lobbying efforts that led to the eternal existence of the plastic bag. "If the plastics industry wants to drive sales ... it must teach customers how to waste."
The recycle symbol—a sign of environmental activism—also encourages consumption. (Credit: ready made/pexels)
The recycling logo—one of the most recognizable images of the environmental movement—was created in a contest held by a plastics company.
It's an icon that persuades consumers we can continue to consume products and materials, because the cycle will create an ecological balance between production and consumption that mitigates the environmental impact.
Failure to recycle is placed on the individual consumer, not on the manufacturer—even though many common plastics can't be recycled, and the fact that 91% of plastic not being recycled suggests a systematic failure.
Campaigns such as "Keep America Beautiful" were also funded by companies that produce plastic waste, such as Coca-Cola and Dixie Cup.
The message suggests individual responsibility to keep litter out of our environment, and invokes individual guilt and shame for the pollution that is there.
Again, it effectively shifts blame from corporations mass-producing pollutants, the root cause of the issue.
Plastic shopping bags are one of the greatest contributors to plastic waste. (Credit: Peteruetz/Wikipedia)
Another reason plastic waste and pollution has amassed so quickly is the lack of legislation regulating plastics. As of May 2020, there are currently no federal laws restricting single-use plastics, the single highest contributor to plastic waste.
Congress could work to shape federal policy by modeling legislation after existing local and state laws passed to tackle the plastics problem.
Today, however, the plastics problem remains unregulated and continuously building. The recent coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a ban on reusable bags in grocery and retail stores, prompting greater usage of single-use plastic bags that activists have worked so hard to discourage.
In detail: Focusing on BPA, this article from our founder Pete Myers discusses why chemical regulation, thought to stifle innovation, is key to reversing today's epidemic of chronic diseases.
Plastic was first invented in 1862 as a substitute for ivory.
During World War II, plastics gained popularity as military resources. After the war ended, the plastics industry began marketing to consumers: in the 1950s, polyester and polypropylene were introduced into consumer products, and plastics took off from there.
In detail: This article from the Science History Institute covers the rise of the plastic empire, from origins to looking into the future.
A variety of chemical building blocks are used to construct plastics; the resulting wide range of unique properties is what makes plastic so versatile.
However, its benefits were quickly discovered and mass-produced without concern for the detriments:
In detail: Our year-long investigation into the common plastic additive BPA reveals dangerous neglect by the federal government to protect our health.
Many chemicals found in plastics can have adverse effects on human health, including increased risk of infertility.
Exposure to microplastics, as well as the chemicals added to plastics during processing, harm our health.
Many chemicals used in plastics are known endocrine disruptors, causing reproductive issues such as infertility, hormonal imbalances, and greater risk of cancer.
In detail: This article by Pete Myers demonstrates the issues (read: toxics) that can arise with recycling plastics into food packaging.
Plastic pollution that has washed up on the shores of Ghana. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Plastic causes an overabundance of problems when discarded into our environment.
Plastics are also one of the main end products of fracking—a practice linked to water and air contamination. Fossil fuels are used to make plastic, so as the demand for plastics increases, it supports the natural gas and oil industry.
In detail: This piece published for World Environment Day visually demonstrates just how much plastic ends up in our waterways, and this story from Jessica Knoblauch emphasizes the environmental toll of plastics.
Seabirds using plastic waste to build nests. It's estimated that 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic waste by 2050. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Many marine species, such as turtles and dolphins, mistake plastic fragments for food. Ingesting plastic is often fatal to animals—too much plastic blocks their digestive tracts, causing them to starve.
Styrofoam products, containing possible carcinogens such as benzene and styrene, are highly toxic when ingested and can damage animals' lungs, nervous systems, and reproductive organs.
Chemicals ingested by these animals can make their way up the food chain onto our dinner plates.
Global plastic bag bans, July 2019. Source: UNEP
The tide of plastic waste has yet to be stemmed. However, attention given to the issue has dramatically increased in recent years. Countries across the world have taken steps to ban single-use plastics and ramp up access to recycling.
In detail: This article by Stephen Buranyi for The Guardian looks at "the worldwide revolt against plastic" - and whether "our rage" will be enough to make a difference.
We're getting there. In Sweden, only 4% of household waste ends up in landfills—the rest is either recycled or used as fuel in waste-to-power energy plants.
The success in Sweden has led to waste-to-energy initiatives in four other European countries. Kenya's strict plastic bag ban has led to so much success that other east African nations are considering following suit.
The EU approved a single-use plastic ban, and countries such as Canada and Peru have plans in place as well. Eight U.S. states have plastic bag bans, with additional major cities following suit.
Progress is being made. However, change at the corporate level is of the utmost importance for large-scale effects.
In detail: Look into the future of plastic and plastic waste with our founder and Chief Scientist, Pete Myers.
If this matters to you, say something. Contact your local government, pressure your representatives, find others in your community that also care.
To be clear, change doesn't have to start with federal legislation: it can begin in your home and in your consumption habits.
Interested in learning more? Sign up for our free Plastic Pollution weekly newsletter, sponsored by Plastic Pollution Coalition, for the most up-to-date information about plastics.
Banner photo credit: Marco Verch/flickr
BPA - a common chemical in durable plastics - is detrimental to our health and remains in widespread use.
We can all take steps to prevent usage of BPA plastics. Use our easy guide.
BPA is concerning to many because of the health effects and because human exposure to BPA is so widespread.
BPA is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor. It can imitate the body's natural hormones and interfere with their function. BPA mimics the structure and function of the hormone estrogen. Due to its estrogen-like shape, BPA can bind to estrogen receptors and influence normal bodily processes. These include growth, cell repair, fetal development, and reproduction.
Studies have shown that infants born to mothers exposed to BPA weigh up to half a pound less, on average, than infants born to unexposed mothers. BPA exposure during early life may also influence hormonal development and behavior in children.
BPA exposure has been shown to cause:
Pregnant women, infants and young children face the greatest risk.
BPA is a chemical that serves as a key ingredient in polycarbonate plastic, making the plastic much more durable and strong.
It was first discovered in 1891 by a Russian chemist but not widely used until the 1950s, when chemists realized it could be mixed with other compounds to produce strong and resilient plastics. In 2015, an estimated four million tons of BPA-derived chemicals were produced, making it one of the highest produced chemicals worldwide.
Today, BPA plastic is commonly made into a variety of popular consumer items such as:
BPA is also used to create epoxy resins, used to line the inside canned food containers to prevent the metal from corroding. And that grittiness you feel when you rub a thermal paper sales receipt between your fingers? That's BPA.
Want more in-depth coverage of BPA in our environment? Our journalists make it their business to cover the latest science:
The main source of BPA exposure is diet, particularly packaged and canned foods.
BPA containers can leach the chemical into your food or beverage, seeping into the container's contents before you ingest them. The degree to which BPA seeps into your food may depend more on the temperature of the container than the age - heat can break the containers down over time, allowing the chemical to be more easily released.
On a personal level, you can protect yourself and your family in several simple ways.
On a national level, take the time to reach out to government representatives to act for those that cannot and future generations.
Ask these questions...
... to these people:
EHN.org's year-long investigation into federal regulation of bisphenol-A exposure found a willful blindness to contemporary science.
This ignored science shows grave concern for our health and reproductive systems at exposures we likely all face.
It's time now to take steps to change this.
Read the full investigation here: www.ehn.org/exposed
Check out our continuing coverage of BPA news here: https://www.ehn.org/bpa/
Recorded at COP25 in Madrid, Spain on December 6, 2019.
From PBS NewsHour's Miles O'Brien: The past year and crucial year ahead in climate change.
By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea. Ten tons of plastic are produced every second. Sooner or later, a tenth of that will end up in the oceans. Coca-Cola says it wants to do something about it - but does it really?
Researchers find nearly 300 chemicals linked to breast cancer-contributing hormones in everyday products, and call for a renewed focus on women's exposure risks.
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities' mental, physical, and social health.
Satellites show communities of color are far more exposed to pollution in Houston, offering a potential new way to close data gaps and tackle disparities.