This is a short guide outlining some of the potential impacts of plastic on human health.
(*Note – this is general information only, and not a professional or expert medical opinion)
Summary – Impact Of Plastic On Human Health
- Two of the main ways plastic may have an impact on human health are 1. Via leaching/the release of chemicals and additives that make up plastic (such as BPA and low phthalates), and plastic’s ability to mimic or disrupt hormones, and 2. Via the ingestion and inhalation of micro and nano plastics by humans
- Something important to note though is that the studies and data on the impact of plastic on human health are not definitive, or at least, they are conflicting (depending on the study or report you read)
- Some studies provide observational data correlating plastic and plastic substances with high rates of human health issues, but there appears to be a lack of hard causal evidence
- Official regulatory organisations across several key countries indicate that plastic at the levels we are exposed to it in society right now provide little to low level risk of causing health issues (so, this might be the consensus)
- It appears there’s a strong case to make that there should be more independent research and data that can give us a more definitive conclusion on the full risk that plastic levels and exposure to plastic (BPA, phthalates, micro and nano plastics etc.) present to humans, and how any risk might present itself
Ways Plastic Might Cause Human Health Concerns
The general ways plastic might impact human health (mainly related to the chemical makeup and additives in plastic, and the properties of plastic) are:
- Via BPA
- Via Phthalates
- Via leaching of other chemicals that may be toxic or cause contamination, or via mimicking or disrupting or hormones
- Via the ingestion and/or inhalation of micro plastics and nano plastics by humans
Read more about these issues in this guide on the 21 potentially harmful effects of plastic.
Below, we have pulled information from these guides, so you may like to read them for further information:
What Are The Potential Health Concerns For Humans From Plastic?
BPA & Phthalates
- Some sources say BPA has the potential to impact on babies/infants and young children. It may also mimic estrogen and other hormones in the body of adults, as well as have other health effects on the human body
- Some sources say low phthalates should be replaced by high phthalates in plastics, and that one of the claimed main health effects of phthalates is as an endocrine disruptor, but there are other claimed health effects too
- Some sources say there is an observable correlation between the presence of plastic substances in the blood (specifically BPA and phthalates) and higher rates of certain health issues. Some of these health issues include chromosomal and reproductive abnormalities, early puberty, childhood obesity, and increased blood pressure.
- But, overall, some sources say there is a lack of hard causal evidence between BPA, Phthalates, and human health issues, and they are said to be low risk in the current exposure levels
Micro & Nano Plastics
- There is, currently, very little evidence of the impact of microplastics in humans. Despite having no clear evidence of health impacts, research on potential exposure is ongoing
- … potential risks from microplastics in the human body are toxicity of the particles, plastic additives, pollutants that accumulate on the plastic, biofilms, and the spread of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance]
- [right now, it is considered there is insufficient information to make firm conclusions on what plastics do to the human body … but, right now, it’s thought plastics are inert when ingested and pass through our bodies without uptake]
- [there appears to be] no reliable information at this time that would suggest any overt health concerns associated with microplastic particles … and there low concern for human health
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals may be leaked into the environment via the breakdown of of plastics in landfill
- Plastic can carry disease causing organisms that act as a vector that transmits diseases in the environment
- It’s also possible that some plastics like some types of highly chlorinated PVC for example may contaminate parts of the environment (and this may indirectly cause health/toxicity issues for humans)
Sources Where BPA & Phthalates Come From
- BPA – can be found most commonly in polycarbonate plastics made into consumer goods, drink and food containers and storage products, and as an epoxy resin used to coat the inside of various objects and products
- Phthalates – typically used for various containers and hard packaging, medical tubing, and bags, and are labelled “Type 3” for recycling reasons. PETE type plastic does not use phthalates as plasticizers
Sources Where Micro Plastics Come From
- Tap water
- Bottled water
- Food supplies (fish and seafood, beer, salt, sugar etc.)
- Plastic utensils
Read about how plastic gets into these sources in this guide – Plastic Pollution On Land: FAQ Guide.