Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet

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Despite being one of the most pervasive materials on the planet, plastic and its impact on human health is poorly understood. Human exposure to it grows with increasing plastic production and use. Research into the human health impacts of plastic to date have focused narrowly on specific moments in the plastic lifecycle, from wellhead to refinery, from store shelves to human bodies, and from disposal to ongoing impacts as air pollutants and ocean plastic. Individually, each stage of the plastic lifecycle poses significant risks to human health. Together, the lifecycle impacts of plastic paint an unequivocally toxic picture: plastic threatens human health on a global scale.

This report provides a detailed overview of the health impacts associated with plastic at every stage of its supply chain and lifecycle, and it reveals the numerous exposure routes through which human health is impacted at each stage. The report details the physical impacts of ingesting, inhaling, and touching plastic, as well as the toxic chemicals associated with those plastic particles, whether chemical additives, processing agents, or byproducts of plastic. This report also reveals that systemic and troubling gaps in our knowledge may exacerbate exposure and risks for workers, consumers, frontline communities, and even communities far removed from the sources of plastic. Despite those gaps, the evidence collected in this report is conclusive that there is an urgent need to adopt a precautionary approach to protect human health from the plastic pollution crisis.

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