Plastics Poison People and Pollute the Planet

IPEN’s microsite shows how hazardous plastics production drives the pressing environmental threat of plastics’ multiple and myriad sources of pollution. Learn how plastic pollution impacts our ecosystems, health, and people, driving major injustice and health disparities.

The Making Reuse a Reality Report brings together research and key evidence from interviews. The report provides a comprehensive analysis of reuse strategies, drawing on a diverse range of global perspectives and experience. Reuse presents an opportunity to move away from the existing linear take-make-waste, single-use packaging economy. 

Plastic production and pollution is devastating our planet, and is set to triple by 2060. The Plastic Forecast, a project of The Minderoo Foundation, combines research on atmospheric plastic with daily weather forecasts to estimate the daily ‘plastic fall’ in an easy-to-understand weather report in an interactive microsite.

New research commissioned by Tearfund finds plastic pollution is increasing the risk of more severe and frequent flooding in world’s poorest communities. Research highlights the global nature of plastic-aggravated flooding for the first time, with the health of millions of people at risk. Plastic pollution blocking waterways and drains can lead to severe health impacts like cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases. Its findings are particularly important to the ongoing negotiations about a United Nations (UN) plastics treaty, which aims to tackle plastic pollution and protect human health from its adverse effects.

Scientists have found that fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic containers—used for household cleaners, pesticides, personal care products and, potentially, food packaging—tested positive for PFAS. Direct fluorination of plastics is performed to impart chemical resistance via exposure of polyethylene to fluorine gas to produce a fluorine-modified surface layer. Leaching experiments were performed on a directly fluorinated container under various conditions and with different matrices, including foodstuffs. A subset of samples subjected to leaching at elevated temperatures generated sums of PFAS concentrations up to 830% higher. An estimate for PFAS released into food ranged from 0.77 to 2.68 ng/kg body weight per week, showing ingestion of food stored in these containers could be a significant source of exposure. Based on the large number of applications where directly fluorinated containers find use, the observation of PFAS migration suggests use regulations are warranted, and future studies should explore their fate when disposed or recycled.

Microplastics have been detected in various media including water, sediment, and seafood, whereas there are few studies focusing on microplastics in take-out containers. In this study, scientists collected take-out containers made of common polymer materials (polypropylene, PP; polystyrene, PS; polyethylene, PE; polyethylene terephthalate, PET) from five cities in China. Microplastics in the containers were analyzed after different treatments (direct flushing and flushing after immersing with hot water). Results showed that microplastics were found in all take-out containers, and come from atmospheric fallout and flakes from container’s inner surfaces. Based on the microplastic abundance in take-out containers, people who order take-out food 4–7 times weekly may ingest 12–203 pieces of microplastics through containers.