Detrimental Effect of Toxins in Plastics: Exposure to the toxic chemicals found in the material used for the manufacture of plastic bags could be responsible for increasing cancers and damage to the immune system. Toxic chemicals in plastic are found in everyday consumer goods, including children’s toys, food packaging, and electronics.
A recent report by the Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP/RAC) found that exposure to even the smallest amounts of harmful plastic chemical additives could result in cancers, damage to immune and reproductive systems, impaired intellectual functions, and developmental delays.
Hazardous Chemical Additives
Some of the offending chemicals include flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, phthalates, bisphenols, and nonylphenols, which can be found in everyday consumer goods, including children’s toys, food packaging, electronics, and textiles. Dr. Sara Brosche of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) said:
“This report is notable because it identifies hazardous chemical additives in common, widely available products and illustrates how they pose a threat to health and the environment whether in products, in waste, in recycling, landfill, or incineration.”
The study conducted by IPEN in collaboration with UN convention groups, scientific experts, and environmental watchdogs also considered the negative effect of the chemicals across all plastic’s shelf-life stages from production to use, recycling, landfill, and incineration. The researchers found that the additives present in plastics posed different hazards to humans, marine life, and the air in all stages. For instance, the incineration of plastic waste containing the toxin dioxin produced ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases. Gaetano Leone, a senior official of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and expert in the Mediterranean region, said:
“Now is the time to act on science to reduce plastics’ toxic chemical additives and the pollution in all its forms and to seek sustainable ways in which we can live in harmony with nature […] taming the leviathan of plastic litter, which stifles marine life and releases highly hazardous substances in the environment, must become a priority.”
Negative Ecological Associations
A sea change in building technology arrived in the 1950s with the “Age of Plastic.” Industrial development of fossil fuels into a wide array of plastics changed formulations in everything from insulation to mechanicals to paint, and plastic is still a ubiquitous component of every building assembly. Unfortunately, the impacts of plastic production in its many forms are heavy in every phase of its life cycle. In contrast, there is a common general understanding that plastics have negative ecological associations, a closer understanding of what types of plastics create what types of impacts will empower us to improve our buildings’ toxic footprint.
The toxic chemical released during manufacture is another significant source of the negative environmental impact of plastics. A whole host of carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and hormone-disruptive chemicals are common ingredients and waste products of plastic production, and they inevitably find their way into our ecology through water, land, and air pollution. Some of the more familiar compounds include vinyl chloride (in PVC), dioxins (in PVC), benzene (in polystyrene), phthalates and other plasticizers (in PVC and others), formaldehyde, and bisphenol-A, or BPA (in polycarbonate).
Many of these are persistent organic pollutants (POPs)—some of the most damaging toxins on the planet, owing to a combination of their persistence in the environment and their high levels of toxicity. These are discussed in greater detail later in this chapter as a consideration of human health; however, their unmitigated release into the environment affects all terrestrial and aquatic life with which they come into contact.
Detrimental Environmental Effects
Harmful Effect of Toxins: It is in the use phase that the benefits of plastics in durability and effectiveness are most evident. Though most plastics are benign in their intended use form, many release toxic gases in their in-place curing – such as spray foam or by their formulation – as with PVC additives off-gassing during their use phase. Occupational exposure during installation, such as inhalation of dust while cutting plastic pipe or off-gassing vapors of curing products, is also a great concern for human health and the environment.
People use plastic bags to carry items like food and clothes, which are bought from shops. Plastic bags are commonly used, even though we know they can damage the environment. For urban solid waste, plastic bags have become major items in the litter system. This has resulted in many detrimental environmental effects, including animal choking, pollution, blockage of channels, rivers, streams, and landscape disfigurement. As a result of these effects, the public at large, activists, and legislatures have voiced outrage to the degree that some national governments have banned the use of plastic bags for shopping.