Toxic plastics, fossil fuels, and chemicals are often produced, transported, stored, and disposed of, just out of sight or in ways you might not notice. Past and recent train-related plastic and petrochemical accidents, including the recent freight train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, have shed unfortunate but necessary light on the hazards of moving highly flammable and toxic materials by rail.
Yet, railways are just one piece of the toxic trail of plastics, fossil fuels, and related chemicals that pollutes the planet and our bodies. These dangerous materials and substances are also frequently shipped by heavy-duty trucks, cargo ships, airplanes, pipelines, and other vessels, and are produced, stored, and disposed of in ways that constantly threaten the health and safety of people and the environment.
Transportation Arteries are Clogged By Toxic Plastics and Fossil Fuels
The tangled web of toxic transportation arteries is extensive globally. Serious accidents are unfortunately common, especially in the United States, where little regulation currently exists on how and where these dangerous substances and materials can be shipped, and what happens after an accident.
Plastics, fossil fuels, and related chemicals are highly flammable and often volatile, especially when mixed, leaked, or ignited during transportation accidents. When released, these materials and substances are not easily contained. This can cause life-threatening fires, explosions, spills, leaks, and all manner of serious short- and long-term pollution. And, like all plastics and fossil fuel industry activities, movement of plastics and fossil fuels is also a serious contributor to the climate crisis.
Last year, more than 1,000 freight railway accidents across the nation’s 140,000 miles of freight railroad tracks were logged with the U.S. Department of Transportation. About a third of those accidents involved trains carrying hazardous materials, including plastics, fossil fuels, and chemicals. Roadways, especially designated hazardous waste routes, are also commonly frequented by plastics, fossil fuels, and wastes related to their production and use. Last year, more than 23,000 incidents occurred on U.S. highways involving hazardous materials including plastics and fossil fuels—and this number appears to be increasing over time.
A smaller but still significant number of accidents occurred in 2022 involving air and water transportation of dangerous cargo, leading to dozens of immediate injuries and several fatalities. What’s more, at least 469 incidents involving natural gas and other hazardous liquid pipelines were recorded last year, causing three-dozen combined injuries and fatalities across the U.S.
Plastics, Fossil Fuels, and Chemical Byproducts are Dangerous When Stored and Disposed
The industrial infrastructure that’s been built up to produce, store, and dispose of plastics, fossil fuels, and related chemicals, is another vast and dangerous part of this toxic trail.
At the front of the plastics pipeline are fossil fuel extraction sites, such as oil and gas wells (including several hundred-thousand to millions of unplugged and abandoned wells in the U.S. alone), tar sands, and coal mines. There are also refineries where these fuels are processed into petrochemicals, and plastic production and manufacturing plants, with many of these substances stored hazardously above ground. Plastic consumer products are commonly stored in warehouses that pollute communities in various ways. Nearly 570,000 underground storage tanks for fossil fuels and other chemicals have been recorded as leaking around the country since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began monitoring in 1984.
At the other end of the plastics pipeline are facilities storing and disposing of plastic wastes—including landfills, incinerators, illegal dumps, and plants claiming to sort, recycle, or “chemical/advanced recycle” plastics, specifically those accepting hazardous wastes. Transport and transfer hubs, including those where plastics, fossil fuels, chemicals, and wastes are loaded to travel along the plastics pipeline, are often contaminated and are common sites for spills of plastic pellets (nurdles) and chemicals, and pose serious fire dangers.
There are also more than 740,000 industrial injection wells—among the most used and least expensive forms of hazardous chemical disposal—in the U.S., as counted by the EPA by 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. Despite being so widespread across the country, underground injection wells are notorious for being poorly regulated and unsafe, with a long history of science linking their existence and use to earthquakes, groundwater contamination, and other serious hazards.
People working or living along all portions of the plastics pipeline face numerous serious physical and emotional health risks linked to:
• Toxic chemical and microplastic pollution (linked to serious cancer risks)
• Noxious odors and noise and light pollution
• Increased diesel truck and heavy vehicle traffic
• Climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions
• Heightened risk of fires and explosions
• Groundwater and soil contamination from microplastics, fossil fuel, and chemical leachates
Plastics and Fossil Fuels Drive Severe Environmental Injustice Along their Toxic Trails
People living in predominantly Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, and low-income communities are particularly impacted by the toxic trail of plastics, fossil fuels, chemicals and wastes. These underserved populations are disproportionately forced to live in proximity to plastics and fossil fuel production, disposal, storage, and shipping along railroad tracks, highways, shipping ports, and pipeline routes.
Sadly, underserved communities such as Mossville, and Diamond, Louisiana, have been, and continue to be, destroyed by pollution and subsequent buy-outs by plastic- and fossil fuel industries. The U.S. also continues to ship plastic waste to other countries, driving serious injustice overseas, particularly in the Global South. In addition, workers tasked with monitoring and managing hazardous substances are at high risk of toxic exposures and fatal accidents like explosions.
It’s not just people but also the Earth that suffers from industrial pollution and accidents, as well as every living being that calls this planet home. Water runs through the veins of living beings (including humans!), and through the veins of the planet, constantly moving through watersheds and weather systems.
As many Indigenous peoples have long emphasized, without water, there would be no life. We are losing healthy, safe waters—and also losing our health and innate connection to the planet—more every day to this buildup of artificial transportation arteries carrying plastics and fossil fuels. Loss of clean water is an emergency in the U.S. and around the world. Now, not only are there plastics and chemicals contaminating Earth’s waterways, but these toxins are also found in human veins and bloodstreams.
Stop the Toxic Trail of Plastics and Fossil Fuels
There is no safe way to produce, transport, store, or dispose of plastics, fossil fuels, related chemicals, and their wastes. These hazardous industrial activities and substances are directly tied to industries’ production of plastics and plastics’ petrochemical ingredients, and they create a toxic trail that poses a danger to people and the planet. Plastic pollution is a human health, social justice, environmental, climate, and wildlife issue, and a planetary crisis. People and communities across the world are finally waking up to the fact that plastic pollution impacts everything.
Solutions to plastic pollution exist. Together we can build a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution! Learn more and take action.
March 23 , 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm EDT
Date: Thursday, March 23
Time: 2-3:30 pm PT | 5-6:30 pm ET
Click here to convert to your timezone.
All people deserve access to safe drinking water. As part of the UN 2023 Water Conference, we are highlighting the need to keep plastic—and its toxic impacts—out of our water systems. Plastics are a health threat at every stage of their existence and are a critical environmental injustice issue disproportionately harming rural, low-income, and communities of color on the front lines of plastic production and disposal. That’s why plastic is not the solution for replacing the toxic lead pipes that currently deliver water into the homes of 22 million people in the United States. With $15 billion designated for lead pipe replacement over the next 5 years, this is the time to influence how the federal and local government use these funds to provide toxic-free drinking water without plastic.
During our March 23 webinar, we will discuss the health hazards of single-use plastic bottles and plastic pipes such as those made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). We’ll recommend options for safe, non-plastic drinking water solutions during lead pipe replacement as well as tips and resources to ensure community water sources remain free of pollutants. These solutions are applicable not only for lead-impacted communities, but also the growing number of communities impacted by PFAs, microplastics, and other chemicals that commonly contaminate water resources. Tune in to learn ways to keep your family safe with filtered, toxic-free water.
Joining us will be Brandi Williams, Good Trouble Department Civil and Human Rights & Fields Campaign Director, Hip Hop Caucus; Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James and 2021 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize; Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Dr. Terrence Collins, Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University; and Erica Cirino, Plastic Pollution Coalition Communications Manager and author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis. The webinar will be moderated by Madison Dennis, Filtered Not Bottled Campaign Coordinator, Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Communications Manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition & Author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis
Erica Cirino is the Communications Manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition and author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis (Island Press, 2021). In the book, she documents plastic across ecosystems and elements; shares stories from the primarily Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, and low-income communities that are disproportionately harmed by industrial pollution and injustice globally; and uncovers strategies that work to prevent plastic from causing further devastation to our planet and its inhabitants. Erica has spent the last decade working as a science writer, author, and artist exploring the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds, and she is best known for her widely published photojournalistic works that cut through plastic industry misinformation to deliver the often shocking and difficult truths about plastic—the most ubiquitous and insidious man-made material on Earth.
Dr. Terrence Collins
Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University
Dr. Terrence Collins is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry and Director of the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University. The Institute is dedicated to “the intellectual growth and technical education of a new generation of ethically aware professionals who understand and practice science in the pursuit of sustainability—from the molecular level on up.” Terrence earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Auckland with postdoctoral work at Stanford University. He has authored/co-authored over 250 publications, delivered over 600 public lectures, and holds over 20 career awards. He developed the first Chemistry and Sustainability university class in 1992, and believes that “achieving a sustainable global chemical enterprise is first and foremost a human character challenge.”
CEO of Beyond Plastics
Judith Enck is the Founder and CEO of Beyond Plastics and former Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama, where she oversaw environmental protections in New York, New Jersey, eight Indian Nations, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She founded Beyond Plastics in 2019 with a mission to end plastic pollution through education, advocacy, and institutional change. She is a Senior Fellow and visiting faculty member at Bennington College, where she currently teaches classes on plastic pollution. Previously, Judith served as Deputy Secretary for the Environment in the New York Governor’s Office, Policy Advisor to the New York State Attorney General, Senior Environmental Associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Executive Director for Environmental Advocates of New York. Judith is a past President of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and a regular contributor to public affairs discussions.
Founding Director of Rise St. James
Sharon Lavigne is the Founding Director of Rise St. James, a faith-based organization focused on preventing worsening pollution from and expansion of the petrochemical industry. An environmental justice activist based in Louisiana, Sharon’s work focuses on combating petrochemical complexes and their negative health impacts on local populations in her state as well as others that comprise Cancer Alley. She is the 2022 recipient of the Laetare Medal, the highest honor for American Catholics, and a 2021 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. She has testified before Congress and is also a collaborator on the Coalition Against Death Alley, a regional environmental justice group. She is also a plaintiff in White Hat v. Landry, an environmental justice case, focused on changes in Louisiana Oil and Gas law.
Brandi N. Williams
Civil and Human Rights, Good Trouble Department Field Campaigns Director for Hip Hop Caucus
Brandi “Bea” Williams serves as the Civil and Human Rights, Good Trouble Department Field Campaigns Director for the Hip Hop Caucus. She is an award-winning and accredited public relations professional turned broker for change who uses her diverse public relations background to negotiate opportunities, equity, and liberation for Black people. Brandi’s advocacy ranges from environmental sustainability to education and mental health. Recently, Brandi earned the Eatmon Award, which is given annually to a person dedicated to educating Black voters. Brandi received her certification as a health coach and launched SoulMed, a holistic health collaborative for Black women. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and trauma, domestic violence, and anxiety and depression, she believes health is a radical act of social justice that can help change the trajectory of outcomes for Black people. As such, Brandi is dedicated to ensuring Black people have access to one of the most basic human rights—clean water.
- Blog: Protecting Communities from the Toxic Impacts of Lead and Plastic
- Filtered Not Bottled webpage
- Filtered Not Bottled Advocacy Packet
- NGO’s Letter to the EPA on Lead Pipe Replacement
- CHEJ: Environmental Justice & the PVC Chemical Industry
- FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan
- Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Guide
- Problem Plastic: How Polyester and PET Plastic Can be Unsafe, Unjust, and Unsustainable Materials
- RISE to Action Against Pollution Activity Book (RISE St. James)
By Erica Cirino, PPC Communications Manager & Author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis
Today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it’s important to celebrate and uplift women and girls who contribute to science—and not just once annually on this sanctioned day of acknowledgement, but every day of the year. And many women and girls have made and continue to make important contributions to our science-based understanding of the global plastic crisis.
In 2018, I worked as a photojournalist covering the plastic pollution beat, turning the tide on misunderstanding with truth. Much of my reporting brought me out to sea, where a significant accumulation of plastic items (an estimated 75 to 199 million metric tons of plastic) is breaking up into tiny particles—microplastics and nanoplastics—that harm people, wildlife, and plants, and is changing the very nature of our planet.
Around that time, friends alerted me of an opportunity to join a collective crew of 300 women from around the world assembled by the women-empowering scientific research organization eXXpedition, co-founded by female sea captain and ocean advocate Emily Penn. Each member of the larger group would be assigned to a smaller crew, sailing one voyage of many required to circumnavigate the globe, conducting research on plastic pollution along the way.
Studying Plastic Problems and Solutions Starts on Land
When I was asked to join Leg 2 of eXXpedition’s “Round the World” voyage, sailing from the Azores to Antigua, I was elated. In October 2019, I traveled to Ponta Delgada, the capital municipality of the Azores, on the lush volcanic island of São Miguel. There, I boarded our ship, SV TravelEdge, and met our crew of 14, and learned of each woman’s diverse experiences and backgrounds. Most of the women had no prior bluewater sailing or academic scientific training.
As hurricane season delayed our departure, our crew spent several days on the island collecting data with our science leader, Dr. Winnie Courtene-Jones of the University of Plymouth. She guided us in collecting sediment samples from beneath our ship in the marina, and in collecting data on the composition and origins of plastic pollution found across the island with research methods developed by Dr. Jenna Jambeck. We discovered that cigarette butts were the most common source of trash on San Miguel’s streets, in addition to other single-use plastic waste.
On land we also toured a waste management facility that collects an astounding 200–250 tons of waste per day from across the ecologically sensitive island, recycling 27% and throwing the rest in a growing landfill. But space for storing trash on islands is limited, and recycling facilities and landfills cause myriad forms of pollution and release greenhouse gases. Expanding operations is not a good option. And while an incinerator was proposed to burn growing mountains of waste, most locals we met spoke out against its construction, as it would only cause other kinds of hazardous pollution and fail to address the continued production of wasteful items—which is the real problem.
However, we observed many local zero-waste solutions already in existence, such as at the open-air Mercado da Graça where fresh foods and other goods are sold loose and in bulk. Our crew brought many of our provisions from this market, finding it very different from the island’s mainstream supermarkets—which we found filled with products wrapped in wasteful single-use plastic packaging.
Science at Sea Reveals the Fate of Plastic in the Ocean
Finally, as rough weather subsided, our crew set off from São Miguel into the open ocean. At sea, we dove into a rigorous research schedule, trawling for plastic on the surface and searching for plastic particles in water pulled from the depths. Onboard, we learned to use scientific equipment to determine what kinds of plastics the particles had shed from, offering potential insights into their origins. Our findings were published in 2022 in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
In addition to our research, life aboard TravelEdge required other types of hard work in order to keep the ship on course and to keep all crew members healthy. We each covered two rotating “watches” on deck per day, trimming sails and steering the ship, with rotating cooking and cleaning obligations. Our work was done in all kinds of weather, and I remember several urgent calls on deck to change the sails in violent squalls, many complete with severe rain, thunder, and lightning. But at sea, storms are often followed by rainbows….
An Island is Vulnerable to Plastic Pollution
When we reached Antigua and steadied our sea legs, which felt wobbly back on land, we connected with local people and groups to learn more about efforts the island was taking to address plastic pollution. This included a meeting with 100 people and the Antiguan Minister of Tourism to discuss the government’s approach to ending plastic pollution on the island—with much of it caused by the sale of single-use plastic items, like we’d observed on São Miguel.
Eventually our crew cleared the ship for the next round of women to take over, and after hugging out my goodbyes, I rented a room at an Antiguan woman’s home for a few days. My hostess was an elder named Chrys. Over a delicious homecooked (and plastic-free!) Antiguan breakfast, she generously spoke with me about how, in her lifetime, she had witnessed local people, culture, and foods being lost as the climate crisis shifted peoples’ priorities and made it harder and more expensive to live, farm, and fish on the island—with plastic and other kinds of pollution, as well as exploitative forms of tourism compounding social and ecological harms. Her story unfortunately resonated with others I have heard from people on other islands and coastlines—places especially vulnerable to the consequences of human-made disasters.
Female-Led Science Illuminates Global Crisis
As recently as five years ago, the plastic pollution crisis was largely still inaccurately portrayed and misunderstood as an issue that starts and ends with “litter” in our oceans. Today, we know this is far from the truth. In reality, industries’ production of plastic harms the entire planet, from the highest mountain peaks to the deepest ocean trenches, impacting everything and everyone.
At the time eXXpedition launched “Round the World” (which was unfortunately cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but continued virtually), research on the massive problem of plastic particles in the oceans and other ecosystems was just ramping up. Then and now, women and other underrepresented groups have led impactful and important plastic science that shows us the truth and supports real solutions to plastic pollution.
Many of the women involved in plastic pollution research also importantly show us that not all scientists wear lab coats. Of the women who sailed with me across the Atlantic, only a handful had what are considered formal science backgrounds, and yet we all contributed to research on land and at sea with eXXpedition. Accessible community or civilian science projects like this one have played an extremely important role in gathering essential data on plastic pollution, and prove that we all can contribute to collective understanding by closely observing our natural world.
eXXpedition also opened my eyes to the important health disparities presented by plastics and plastic-related chemicals and emissions to women and girls. On board we discussed how womens’ endocrine (hormone) systems—which control reproduction, metabolism, and other important body functions—can be easily disrupted by plastic chemicals. And people who carry and bear children, a group that includes many women, are at a high risk of passing on pollution to their babies. Plastics have been recently found in human veins, bloodstreams, breastmilk and placentas, and plastic chemicals have been found in umbilical cord blood; these findings paint a worrying picture for people alive today and future generations.
Let’s Empower One Another
Sadly, women and girls have long dealt with under-acknowledgement and lack of acknowledgement across the vast array of sciences and in adventurous pursuits such as sailing. Such discrimination in these—and so many other—fields has disproportionately harmed and silenced the voices and achievements of women of color and Indigenous women, as well as other historically underserved groups such as transgender, nonbinary, and queer peoples.
On eXXpedition’s Atlantic voyage, I learned so much about the incredible strength of women in science and sailing. We inspired and helped one another, holding impromptu on-deck yoga sessions and meditations when we felt stressed, and showed acts of kindness, care, and concern for one another throughout the trip. We had fun too, and shared lots of laughs as we sang, listened to podcasts, watched incredible wildlife and nature, and found joy in cooking and sharing at-sea treats like fresh bread, vegetable curries, and other culinary delights. We forged a real sisterhood; many of the women who sailed on this leg of the Round the World journey are still in touch with and visit one another today.
To me, this experience underscored that, together, we as women can support and empower each other, and also need to uplift the next generations of people, especially those who see themselves in underrepresented groups. Science is all about asking questions, and in attempting to answer these questions, we benefit most by listening to a wide range of voices. Diverse perspectives help us envision, achieve, and ultimately act on solutions to end plastic pollution, and create the healthy, just, equitable world we all need to not only survive—but thrive.
Together we can build a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution! Learn more about the facts and solutions, and take action: sign petitions on important plastics issues, and pledge to cut your own plastic use.
You may have recently heard about microplastics and nanoplastics in the news, on social media, in your school or workplace, or in everyday conversation. “Microplastics” have even been deemed a “2023 Buzzword” by National Public Radio.
“Microplastics” and “nanoplastics” are words used to describe tiny plastic particles about the diameter of a standard pencil’s eraser and smaller. They exist all around us on Earth, and inside of our bodies, and shed off of things that are made from plastic.
Scientists have known for decades that plastic is a material that never breaks down or benignly biodegrades. But it’s only more recently that experts have been able to identify what happens instead: All plastic items break up into ever-smaller particles that remain plastic. Plastic particles travel through indoor and outdoor air; fresh waters, oceans, and other aquatic ecosystems; soils; plants; weather systems and atmosphere; and in the bodies of animals—including, as we now know, humans.
Should we be concerned? In short, yes. A large and growing body of evidence shows us how microplastics and nanoplastics are hazardous to people and other living beings, and the Earth, too. In fact, the Earth is so saturated with plastic particles that some people have said we are living during a new geological era: The Plasticene.
While we unfortunately cannot always avoid plastic particles, there’s much you can do to minimize your exposure. Read on to learn more about how you can take action today to protect your health from the dangers of microplastics and nanoplastics:
Microplastics and Nanoplastics are Harmful
Research showing the full extent of harm caused by microplastics and nanoplastics is now ramping up fast. While there’s a lot we do not yet know—such as the long-term effects of exposure to plastic particles on humans and the Earth—what we do know is concerning:
Plastic particles are in our bodies and environment
Microplastics and nanoplastics are small enough to enter the human body. They get into our bodies through our skin, when we eat and drink, and when we breathe. Plastic particles are widespread in modern human diets and our drinking water sources (tap and bottled); beverages (including soda and beer); fish, livestock, and game; produce and other edible plants; spices and salt; and processed and packaged foods.
Over the past several years, scientists have detected the presence of tiny plastic particles in people’s bloodstreams, veins, lungs, placentas, feces, and breast milk, with more worrying research now on the way. Human body cells exposed to microplastic particles in the laboratory experience cell damage and death. Observations of wild animals in nature show us that interactions with microplastics and nanoplastics can be deadly.
Plastic particles are known to both absorb toxic chemicals that pollute our planet and leach them into living organisms (including humans) and into Earth’s ecosystems. The smallest nanoplastic particles appear to have the ability to cross the blood–brain barrier in animals that ingest them, including fish. Plastic particles are easily colonized by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic organisms that can cause disease.
Plastic particles are hazardous to our health
Ninety-nine percent of all plastics are made from petrochemicals derived from fossil fuels—gas, oil, and coal. Plastic’s fossil fuel ingredients are mixed with any combination of more than 10,000 chemicals that give plastics certain useful characteristics, such as flexibility, water-resistance, and nonstick qualities.
But this usefulness comes at a steep cost: More than 2,400 of these chemicals have been identified in the European Union as “toxic,” “persistent,” and/or “bioaccumulating” (dangerously building up in our bodies), with many more marked as likely hazardous. Many of the problematic chemicals in plastics are also made from fossil fuels.
Many plastic chemicals are known to cause and/or contribute to a wide range of health problems, including a person’s risk of hormone-related health issues, such as infertility and auto-immune diseases, cancers, and DNA damage. Microplastics and nanoplastics act as carriers for the chemicals that industries manufacture into plastics.
Take These Steps to Protect Your Health
Many experts now advise taking steps to avoid exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics, and plastics generally, to best protect our health. Children, as well as people who are trying to reproduce, appear particularly vulnerable to the hormone-disrupting and other toxic properties of plastics. People who work directly with plastics also appear more prone to the health threats of plastics and plastic particles.
Modern people may spend 90% (or more) of their time indoors—at home, school, in the workplace, and in public places. This is especially true as people continue to adapt to life amid a global pandemic. That’s a lot of time in environments that we can potentially control. Outdoors, we usually have less control over what pollutants we encounter.
Follow these steps to eliminate plastics—and microplastic and nanoplastic particles—from your indoor environments:
1. Take stock of plastics in your kitchen
Research suggests that most processed and packaged foods and beverages contain microplastic particles—in surprising amounts. Researchers have estimated modern people could be ingesting up to a credit card’s weight in plastic every week.
Eating unpackaged foods, such as loose fruits and vegetables, as well as foods packaged in untreated paper or reusable materials such as stainless steel, glass, and ceramic, can minimize your exposure to additional plastic particles in your diet. Don’t ever warm food in plastic containers in the microwave—use microwave-safe ceramic or glass instead.
Avoid consuming beverages bottled in plastic, including bottled water, to reduce your exposure to microplastic particles. Research shows tap water usually has lower levels of microplastics. Use a filter capable of removing microplastics and other contaminants to ensure the water you drink is safe and clean.
Shop for food locally if you can, at farmers markets (find markets in the U.S. here) and grocery stores that offer reuse options where you bring your own containers to refill. You can also grow your own food in your garden, or in containers on your windowsill or rooftop; or in a community garden near you. Or purchase fresh, local food from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation in your neighborhood (search for CSAs in the U.S. here). If you chew gum, find gum made from natural ingredients—not plastic! And when you shop, use reusable bags, ideally made from cotton or other natural, non-plastic materials like hemp or bamboo. You can make your own bags for free out of old t-shirts made from these same materials.
When eating out, choose eateries offering plastic-free and reusable packaging and dining options. We’ve partnered with Yelp! to create search attributes to help you decide. Prepare your foods from unprocessed ingredients, and store or carry meals and in reusable, non-plastic containers. Eat off of, and drink out of, reusable glass, metal, and ceramic plates, bowls, cups, mugs; use metal or wood flatware, and glass or metal straws. Avoid plastic baby bottles.
Remove plastics from your kitchen and instead try to find utensils, appliances, and other supplies that minimize or eliminate plastic contact with food. Ditch toxic plastic-coated teflon pots and pans and stock up on stainless steel, uncoated ceramic, and cast iron. Many plastic-free kitchen solutions are low-cost, if not free: for example, instead of purchasing glass containers to store your leftovers or to take to a reuse shop, save glass containers you purchase along with your peanut butter, pickles, and other jarred foods for this purpose.
2. Beware of the plastics you might be wearing
Plastic fibers make up much modern clothing and apparel today. These manmade materials are major shedders of microplastic and nanoplastic “microfibers.” Avoid buying clothes made of plastic fibers like spandex, polyester, nylon, acrylic, and polyamide. Instead, opt for natural fibers such as 100% organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, wool, and other animal fibers.
Be aware that cheaply made, mass-produced seasonal “fast-fashion” apparel, even if made from nonplastic fibers, often has outsized negative impacts on people and the environment. Do your homework on brands before you buy to understand how their employees are treated, and how they value (or not) people and the planet.
Overall we need to take better care of our clothing, buying less and taking care of it better. Wash your clothes only when they are truly dirty, use cold water, wash in full loads, and opt for shorter washing cycles to reduce wear and tear. Learning to sew, knit, and repair your clothes can extend their useful life and reduce the need to buy “new” clothes. Buying secondhand or exchanging clothing in swaps can extend the life of garments that otherwise may be destined for a landfill.
If you do have plastic fabrics in your home, consider installing a filter on your washing machine that’s designed to catch plastic fibers. In France, by 2025, these filters will be obligatory on all new washing machines. These filters are an imperfect solution, since microfibers still need to be removed periodically and sent somewhere for disposal—most often a landfill. However, washing machine filters can minimize your exposure and prevent microfibers from immediate discharge into your wastewater system.
3. Choose plastic-free furnishings
Homes, offices, schools, and other buildings we occupy are often built with plastic materials and filled with plastic furnishings. When possible, avoid plastic materials and furniture for use in your home. Carpeting, manmade flooring, ceiling tiles, paints and finishes, couches, upholstered chairs, and other common household items contribute to indoor plastic pollution.
Besides circulating in the air, plastic particles often settle in the dust in indoor environments. Children and pets, being low to the ground where particles gather, are especially vulnerable to microplastics and nanoplastic exposure indoors.
Children and pets alike should not be given plastic toys with which to play. For human babies and kids, unpainted, untreated wooden toys are one of many safe options. Learn more about keeping your child safe from plastics with our Healthy Baby Guide. For keeping pets content, opt for natural ropes, homemade biscuits, raw fruits and vegetables, and real animal bones or horns (appropriately sized to your pet, of course), and organic catnip. Learn more about keeping your nonhuman friends safe in our upcoming webinar, “Plastic-Free Pet Care.”
Your lifestyle choices also impact plastic exposure in your indoor environments. Frequent vacuuming can reduce microplastics and nanoplastics. Be sure to open your windows while vacuuming to minimize your exposure to plastic particles kicked up during the process. Indoor HEPA filters can remove plastic particles from the air to minimize your risk of breathing them in.
Take Action to End Plastic Pollution
While you take steps to minimize your exposure to plastics in your everyday life, you can make an even bigger impact by supporting systemic solutions to plastic pollution. Remember, we need to turn off the tap on global plastics production in order to stop this urgent crisis. Plastic particles are only one of many sources of serious pollution caused by plastics. And the growing threat of microplastics and nanoplastics will only multiply unless plastic production is stopped.
Together we can build a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution! Learn more about the facts and solutions, and take action: sign petitions on important plastics issues, and pledge to cut your own plastic use.