Plastic, disease and Covid-19

24th July 2021 **Updated 19th February 2022

To quote the Center For Environmental Law (CIEL), ‘Every stage of the plastic lifecycle poses significant risks to human health, and the majority of people worldwide are exposed to plastic at multiple stages of this lifecycle.’ Plastic is linked to all sorts of disease: genetic mutations, cancers, hormone disruption, pathogens, developmental disorders, reproductive disorders, lung disease and more. Research is ongoing. Given the time for plastic to degrade, we may not understand the full health impacts of plastic pollution for many years.

Researchers estimated on August 23 2021 that "8.4 ± 1.4 million tons of pandemic-associated plastic waste have been generated from 193 countries". Using single-use plastic masks and gloves to reduce the disease of Covid-19 is furthering disease through plastic pollution. We have been using 129 billion masks per month and 65 billion gloves per month globally in attempts to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. How can this use of single-use plastic PPE be considered as beneficial for health?

Authorities claim to care about the health impacts of Covid-19. Over 100 health experts wrote to governments and industry in 2020 to clarify that reusable PPE is safe but our use of single-use plastic PPE is not. The UK and other governments have failed to act. So they care about our health with regards to Covid-19 but not plastic pollution?

For those wearing single-use plastic masks, please consider this: If you inhale the plastic fibres that the masks are made of, you may permanently damage your lungs, as this study attests. Plastic harbours bacteria and pathogens. What then are the effects of breathing in from a plastic fibre mask? What are the effects of it touching your lips and skin? For alternatives to single-use plastic masks, see this Greenpeace article, 'How to make a reusable covid mask and avoid plastic pollution'.

What kind of gamble are we taking with our health and that of future generations? As the saying goes, 'you can have all the riches in the world, but if you don't have your health. you have nothing. Rather than focus on dealing with symptoms of a diseased system, we need to deal with root causes: inequality, destruction of habitats / the environment, pollution.

Further reading