THERE’S this joke about three insurance salesmen who bragged about the extent of coverage of their insurance policies. One of them boasted that they cover from “birth to death”. Another countered that they have a better offer because they insure from “womb to tomb.” The third guy simply laughed and said that that no other insurance company can beat them because they insure from “erection to resurrection.”

I was reminded of this joke when I read an article about a new study regarding the danger posed by plastics. The report said that plastic is harmful at every stage of its life cycle from “extraction to destruction.” The study was done by the Center for International Environmental Law, a public interest, not-for-profit environmental law firm founded in 1989 in the United States to strengthen international and comparative environmental law and policy around the world (Wikipedia).

The 75-page document reveals “numerous exposure routes through which human health is impacted at each stage of the manufacturing of plastic.” The report says that even if we stop using single-use disposables now and have a zero-waste living, we continue to be affected by plastic. How?

First, during the extraction and transportation of raw materials, toxic chemicals like benzene, VOCs, and 170+ fracking fluid chemicals are released into the air. These are inhaled or ingested, leading to immune dysfunction, cancer, and neuro-, reproductive, and developmental toxicity, among other things. The main raw material for plastics is oil.

Second, the refining and manufacturing of plastic resins and feedstock’s is linked to “impairment of the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, leukemia, and genetic impacts like low birth weight.”

Third, when we buy and use plastic products, we are exposed to countless unnamed chemicals (which are not listed as ingredients), heavy metals, carcinogens, and microplastics. People ingest, inhale, and touch these to their skin.

Fourth, when plastic is disposed , especially through “waste to energy” incineration, toxic chemicals are released into the air, which are absorbed by soil, air, and water, causing indirect harm to people and communities nearby (and sometimes far away).

Fifth, when plastics is broken down into tiny pieces (microplastics), they enter the environment and human body, leading to “an array of health impacts, including inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and necrosis.”

Lastly, the degradation of plastic results in more chemical leaching.

“As plastic particles degrade, new surface areas are exposed, allowing continued leaching of additives from the core to the surface of the particle in the environment and the human body.”

Let us do our share in avoiding the use of single use plastics like mineral water bottles and sando-bags or plastic bags. This is not just an environmental issue, but a health issue as well.