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Health and environmental issues
- Mar 22, 2018 -

There is ongoing concern as to the use of plastics in consumer food packing solutions, environmental impact of the disposal of these products, as well as concerns regarding consumer safety Karin Michaels, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests that toxins leaching from plastics might be related to disorders such as infertility and cancer in humans.

In the United States, plastic water bottles are regulated by the FAD which also inspects and samples bottled water plants periodically. Plastic water bottle plants hold a low priority for inspection due to a continuously good safety record. In the past, the FDA maintained that there was a lack of human data showing plastics pose health problems, however in January 2010, the FDA reversed its opinion saying they now have concerns about health risks An article published on November 6, 2017 in Water Research reported on the content of microplastics in mineral waters packed in plastic or glass bottles, or beverage cartons. In 2018, research conducted by Sherri Mason from the State University of New York in Fredonia revealed the presence of polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate microparticles in plastic bottles. Polypropylene was hereby found to be the most common polymeric material (54%) and nylon the second most abundant (16%) polymeric material. The study also mentioned that polypropylene and polyethylene are polymers that are often used to make plastic bottle caps. Also, 4% of retrieved plastic particles were found to have signatures of industrial lubricants coating the polymer. The research was reviewed by Andrew Mayes of the University of East Anglia (UEA) School of Chemistry.The European Food Safety Authority suggested most microplastics are excreted by the body, however the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that it is possible that the smallest particles (< 1.5 μm) could enter the bloodstream and organs, via the intestinal wall.

The effect of plastics on global warming is mixed. Plastics are generally made from petroleum. If the plastic is incinerated, it increases carbon emissions; if it is placed in a landfill, it becomes a carbon sink although biodegradable plastics have caused methane emissions.  Due to the lightness of plastic versus glass or metal, plastic may reduce energy consumption. For example, packaging beverages in PET plastic rather than glass or metal is estimated to save 52% in transportation energy.

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