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Plastics and Health


The health effects of plastic have increasingly been questioned. PVC was one of the first plastics to be shown to leach harmful chemicals. Pthalates from PVC actually move from the plastic (be it wrapping, clothing, a child’s toy or a medical blood transfusion bag) and contaminate what it is touching. Pthlates have been proven to be hormone disruptive, and lead to many health problems. Other chemicals such as p-nonylphenol, which is released from polystyrene plastic, and Bisphenol A, which leaches out of polycarbonate plastic when it is heated, may also adversely affect health. Pnonylphenol has been shown to disrupt hormones. The popular plastic PET, used in cooldrink bottles, also has problems -for example, evidence was also found that acetaldehyde migrated out of PET, and into water. For these reasons, certain plastics have already been banned in Canada and the U.S. In South Africa, dioxins and furans are regularly released from the burning of plastic, from people burning waste at home to industrial incinerators. The United Nations Stockholm Convention (to which SA is a signatory) calls for the phasing out, and eventual banning, of these cancer-causing chemicals. However, the plastics industry often denies the leaching of harmful chemicals from plastic, despite their acknowledgement that one of the problems with plastic recycling is the potential for contaminants leaching.

Used with permission by Institute for Zero Waste in Africa

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