Plastic recycling has a sneaky yet significant impact on human and environmental health. When recycling companies take, sort, process and repurpose recycled plastic, the benefits seep into many facets of life. Imagine a world without mounds of landfill that release toxic fumes and air pollution.
Consider how single-use plastic bottles might appear less in local creeks, not breaking down into microplastics that enter your food. Healing the Earth is a primary goal of global leaders, but let’s take a minute to acknowledge the human health benefits that recycling plastic provides, especially for women.
The Health Risks Of Plastic Waste
If plastic waste only contributed to one health problem, it might be easier to wrangle. In reality, plastic waste is versatile — it wants to attach to you and impact everyone’s health. Surveys discovered chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) were in 93% of tested urine samples of people aged six and older, and it’s most likely the BPA leaches into food through coated packaging, like to-go containers and canned food.
Reducing exposure requires research. You’ll have to read safety labels on what not to microwave and choose products, like baby bottles, that don’t contain harmful chemicals like BPA. Otherwise, they could result in some of the top health side effects of the plastic waste problem, such as:
- Spreading infectious diseases as plastic waste provides more breeding opportunities.
- Fertility issues and increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women.
- Compromised nutrient density in food.
- Potential increased risk of cancer.
- Stress and anxiety.
- Cardiovascular disease.
Plastic waste makes these ailments a reality by finding its way into the human body through food and water. A process known as trophic transfer explains how fish and other livestock consume plastic waste and, by proxy, end up hidden as nanoparticles in a family’s breakfast. It’s how other plastic wastes like per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollute waterways and make contact with humans — studies show PFAS was present in 89% of France’s water.
How Plastic Recycling Can Reduce Health Risks
The apparent solution to minimizing these health risks is to remove plastic waste from the environment. Humans can give fewer opportunities for chemicals and microplastics to seep into bodies through recycling. Recycling lowers those chances by removing plastic from water before fish can eat it or encouraging companies to remove harmful chemicals during the recycling process.
The most widely incorporated uses of plastic upcycling include:
- Packaging with post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, like food containers
- Synthetic textiles and shoes
- Kitchenware and utensils
- Cosmetics bottles and makeup containers
- Pet toys
- Yoga mats
- Tech, like e-readers and record players
These products reduce greenhouse gasses, which keeps the atmosphere healthy — and human skin, too. The less plastic waste thins the atmosphere, the better it is at protecting humans from UV rays. Plastic also heavily relies on fossil fuels, making them a pollutive byproduct of plastic generation. Reducing oil reliance has many health benefits, from better air quality to more easily treated wastewater.
Challenges And Opportunities In Plastic Recycling
Do humans have the resources and infrastructure for efficient, widespread plastic recycling? It depends on the region, but accessibility is one of the sector’s most considerable drawbacks — plastic only amounts to 4.47% of recycled materials. Cross-contamination is another, mainly when microscopic bacteria or airborne particles quickly spread from one surface to another, reproducing at rapid rates.
It’s the responsibility of environmental advocates on the ground and policymakers on the hill to lobby and institute national regulatory change. These legislative pushes could increase investments in plastic recycling infrastructure, especially if it’s through a public health lens. It could lead to full-blown bans of unnecessary plastic products that significantly contribute to plastic waste, like shopping bags. These efforts may increase recycling rates as facilities increase efficiency and availability, even in rural areas.
There have been successful plastic recycling projects and initiatives in the past that have shaped mindsets around plastic consumption. One example is deposit and return schemes, which incentivize consumers to return plastic products for a small profit — like old-fashioned can collection. Another specified plastic categorization, led by the Japanese town of Kamikatsu, separates plastic and other recyclables into 45 categories to make them a near-zero-waste town.
How To Live Longer By Recycling Plastic
Plastic recycling is integral to human health because it reduces the chance of microplastic consumption, long-term health complications and stress. Though recycling is primarily for environmental wellbeing, humans won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of the Earth’s cleanup if they’re not in peak health.
Seeing the adverse impact of plastic waste makes widespread plastic recycling adoption more urgent than ever. Everyone must commit to expressing interest in advancement while taking steps to reduce their plastic consumption.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.