Today is World Environment Day 2023

In Blog, Environment, Science, Science by Denis Naughten

How does plastic pollution affect us?

An estimated 19 to 23 million tonnes of plastic leak into aquatic ecosystems annually. Plastic pollution has devastating effects on a wide array of organisms in our seas, rivers, and on land. Marine litter harms more than 800 species. More than 90 per cent of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomachs. The effects of microplastic ingestion are catastrophic; they cause starvation, endocrine disruption, stunted growth in some species and broken-down digestive systems. Plastic can prevent aquatic life from receiving oxygen and light, while microplastics can also accumulate in the soil due to their use in agricultural products.


Human health

Microplastics can enter the body through inhalation and absorption via the skin and accumulate in organs, including the placenta. Some of the chemicals in microplastics are associated with serious health impacts, especially in women. Scientists have established links between exposure from chemical additives that leech from plastics with obesity, diabetes, poor brain health and even cancer. Research is still being done on the effects microplastics have on human health, and we do not yet know the extent of how dangerous they are. Additionally, due to limited and inefficient waste management infrastructure, 40 per cent of the world’s garbage is burnt, 12 per cent of which consists of plasticThe burning of plastic waste has multiple health impacts, including increasing the risk of heart diseases and aggravating respiratory problems, such as asthma and emphysema.


Climate crisis

The production of plastic is one of the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes in the world, which is a problem when it comes to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. In 2019, plastic generated 1.8 billion metric tonnes of GHGs – 3.4 per cent of the global total – with 90 per cent of those emissions coming from plastic production and the conversion of fossil fuels. Most plastics originate from fossil fuels and the plastic industry accounts for 6 per cent of global oil consumption. The level of GHG emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow to 19 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This is particularly an issue with single-use plastics: 98 per cent of single-use plastic products are produced from fossil fuels or “virgin” feedstock.





This is an extract from an Oireachtas briefing – Read the full presentation here: