An overview of concerns by DEA member A/Prof Vicki Kotsirilos
The impact of chemicals such as heavy metals and pesticides in the environment on human health is well recognised.1 What is not well recognised is the impact of plastics in the environment on human health.
In April 2016, the Federal Government, Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, released its report titled “Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia”. It contains alarming concerns about the impact of plastics found in abundance in our environment.2
One generation ago, plastics were not part of our daily lives. Cloth, boxes or paper bags were used for shopping and there were no plastics for storing food in the fridges. Now it is part of our daily lives even for single-use packaging of food! The problem is global and widespread. Go to Asia such as Bali and experience swimming in one of their beaches with plastic debris floating in the water and brushing up against your skin. It is not a pleasant experience!
The World Economic Forum warn plastics are increasingly being used across economies in sectors ranging from packaging to construction, transportation, healthcare and electronics. This increasing use is reflected in the rate of increase in global plastic production: in 1964, 15 million tonnes of plastics were produced, in 2014 that had increased to 311 million tonnes. According to the World Economic Forum, plastics production is expected to double again in 20 years, and to almost quadruple by 2050.3 In summary, the Senate report raises serious concerns and highlights the following points:2
There is an alarming production and use of plastics worldwide.
In summary, the Senate has made a number of recommendations to address the problems of plastics.2 Every effort should be made at the State, National and International level to help raise community awareness of the problems of plastics on the environment. This includes a reduction in the production of plastics by industry and finding alternative options and the need and use of plastics by communities, e.g. one use plastic products. Additionally, the community and government should prohibit the supply of plastics where suitable options are available, e.g. shopping bags made of plastics, and for improved discarding and recycling programs of all types of plastics.
1 Nicole Bijlsma, Marc M. Cohen. Review, Environmental chemicals in clinical practice: unveiling the elephant in the room. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND PUBLIC HEALTH. FEBRUARY 2016 DOI: 10.3390/ijerph13020181 http://profmarccohen.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Env-chemicals-in-clinical-practice.pdf
[Accessed 30.10.2016] 2http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Marine_plastics/Report [Accessed 20.10.2016] 3 World Economic Forum, The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, January 2016, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf p. 7 and p. 10. [Accessed 30.10.2016] 4 Hardesty, B D, and Wilcox, C. Understanding the types, sources and at-sea distribution of marine debris in Australian waters, 2011, CSIRO, https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/8ff786ed-42cf-4a50-866e-13a4d231422b/files/marine-debris-sources.pdf [Accessed 30.10.2016] 5 World Economic Forum, The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics, January
2016, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf [Accessed 30.10.2016] 6 Neil Blake, Fam Charko. Litter Hotspots program – ‘Clean Bay Coalition’ micro-plastics report. Pilot study of micro-plastics in the Maribyrnong and Yarra Rivers and
Port Phillip Bay. Report by Port Phillip EcoCentre, July 2014. Funded by the Victorian Government Cleaner Yarra & Bay Litter Hotspots program. http://www.bay-keeper.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Litter-Hotspots-microplastics-report-July-2014-FINAL.pdf [Accessed 30.10.2016] 7 Persistent organic pollutants are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental
degradation, and are known to bioaccumulate. Most persistent organic pollutants are currently
or were in the past used as pesticides, solvents, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. For more information see http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/chemicals-management/pops [Accessed 30.10.2016]