Plastic And Health Risk - It Starts With the Production

| By Leon Kirschgens & Jacqueline Plaster

Many people know about the harmful effects of plastic on the environment. But plastic affects many more areas of life, directly and indirectly. The textile industry with its chemicals is just one example. In our new series, we look at the secondary impacts.

Do you remember? A few weeks ago we talked about waste pickers in the garbage city of Cairo and the connections between inadequate garbage management, resulting lack of hygiene and health problems. This is not only the case in Cairo but in many other developing countries and highlights how it can create additional concerns, especially in times like corona. Such problems which are not obviously associated with plastic are called secondary impacts.

There are many of these secondary impacts of which one is not necessarily aware and about which we will report in the course of our blog. They clarify, how many problems are connected to each other and points out how important it is to promote global commitment and to work on holistic solution strategies together.

It starts with the production of plastics, e.g. textiles, which account for about 15% of the annual global plastics production, making it one of the biggest industrial polluters of our environment. Between 20,000 and 40,000 different chemicals are used to treat and dye clothing - some of them are carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic to reproduction. Many workers which are exposed to such contaminants suffer from work-related diseases. Examples are a combination of formaldehyde and death from leukaemia, higher risk of dying from breast cancer or increased risk of miscarriage.

Furthermore: recycling of most of these clothing is quite difficult and in most cases impossible – and in the end, it ends up in the ocean.

If you keep this in mind - is your cheap $5 polyester T-shirt and an overcrowded wardrobe really worth that people get sick or even dye because of it?