Plastic pollution once discarded into the natural environment has many negative impacts.
A review of plastic pollution impacts by Our World in Data summarized impacts on biology as:
- Entanglement – the entrapping and constricting of animals by plastic pollution. Globally, entanglement by plastic has been noted in 344 individual species.
- Ingestion – Ingestion of plastic can happen unintentionally or intentionally by wildlife. Ingestion of plastic has been noted in 233 individual marine species. Ingested plastic reduces the desire for feeding, alters hormone levels and can affect the ability of wildlife to reproduce (Li et al., 2016).
- Interaction – Plastic pollution causing abrasions, collisions or obstructions can affect species. This is less common but includes such effects as the impact of plastic fishing gear damaging coral reef surfaces.
Human health impacts:
- Plastics contain additives (such as phthalates and bisphenol A, BPA) which are toxic chemicals (Thompson et al., 2009). Due to uptake by plants and ingestion by animals, these chemicals are incorporated into food chains. Consequently, 8 out of 10 people have measurable levels of phthalates in their bodies and 93% people have measurable amounts of BPA in their urine. (Source: Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, “Plastic Pollution: How Humans Are Turning the World into Plastic”).
- However, it is important to note that to date, there is little evidence to suggest adverse health effects of the consumption of such chemicals, especially given the small concentrations that tend to be measured in humans (Thompson et al., 2009).
Natural beauty impacts:
- Any amount of human waste improperly disposed in the environment is not pleasant. Ensuring that plastic is disposed of properly helps preserve the natural beauty of many aspects of our environment.
Li, W.C., Tse, H.F. and Fok, L., (2016). Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of sources, occurrence and effects. Science of the Total Environment, 566, pp.333-349.
Ritchie, H. (2018). Plastic Pollution. Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution> (Accessed: 24 June 2020).
Thompson, R.C., Moore, C.J., Vom Saal, F.S. and Swan, S.H., (2009). Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), pp.2153-2166.
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, “Plastic Pollution: How Humans Are Turning the World into Plastic”