Journal of Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences

: 2018  |  Volume : 23  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 7--9

Plastics: Friend or foe?

OP Gupta 
 Department of Medicine, MGIMS, Wardha, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. O P Gupta
Department of Medicine, MGIMS, Sewagram, Wardha, Maharashtra


Plastics has been playing a very significant role in our life. Being light weight, inexpensive and heving good insulating properties it is being used in all aspects of life, from clothes to contact lenses and from mobile phones to automobiles as well as in medical equipments, However it is not biodegradable, and while degrading to fragments it gets converted in to microplastics and nanoplastics The plastic waste is being recognized as an environmental hazard, since these micr- and nanoplastics find way from landfills to water and foods, It is said that we are not only using, but we are eating, drinking and even braething the plastics. These microplastics in body release certain hazardous chemicals and found to be disrupting functions of certain endocrine organs. Whether the rising prevalence of Diabetes, thyroid disorders or infirtility etc., are realated to the plastics?

How to cite this article:
Gupta O P. Plastics: Friend or foe?.J Mahatma Gandhi Inst Med Sci 2018;23:7-9

How to cite this URL:
Gupta O P. Plastics: Friend or foe?. J Mahatma Gandhi Inst Med Sci [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Jun 4 ];23:7-9
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Full Text

Yarsley and Couzens (1941) imagined the new “Plastic man,” who would come into an idyllic world of “colour and bright shining surfaces, where childish hands find nothing to break, no sharp edges, or corners to cut or graze, no crevices to harbour dirt or germs, because … he is surrounded on every side by this tough, safe, clean material. They concluded by announcing a second industrial revolution, looking to a time when science would have “new powers and resources to create a more beautiful world.” The new spirit of planned scientific control would be expressed by the Plastics.

Thomas and Clarkson [1]

Plastics play a significant role across the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development. In almost all aspects of daily life, plastic has become indispensable. Since it is lightweight, inexpensive, durable, heat and corrosive resistant, and has insulating properties, it is ubiquitous from clothes and footwear to contact lenses, from furniture, flooring to our clothing and cosmetics, packaging and storage materials, for transporting foods, drinks, and other goods, in telecommunications and automobile, etc. Plastics make up 85% of medical equipment. The ntravenous bags and tubing alone constitute up to 25% of hospital waste. Its annual production is over 300 million metric tons.[2] The recent research has shown that we are not only using plastics but also we are eating plastics, drinking plastics, and even breathing plastics.[3]

Pure plastics generally insoluble in water and nontoxic. It is also not biodegradable and takes very long time (years) to get degraded in the environment, hence disposal of plastics is another important and significant problem all over the world. Out of both the domestic and industrial waste plastics contributes to about 10% of total discarded waste, 80% of it goes to landfills.[4] The plastic debris has accumulated in terrestrial environments, in the open ocean, on shorelines of even the most remote islands and in the deep sea. The longevity of plastic is estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years and poses considerable threat by choking and starving wildlife, distributing potentially harmful organisms, absorbing toxic chemicals, and degrading to microplastics that may subsequently be ingested.[5] Plastic also ends up in our water supply from microscopic plastic fibers (Microplastics which is 0.1–5000 μm) from our clothing ending up in laundry water, tire dust from roads ending up in the river, and wind causing paint dust to coat the ocean's surface.[6] The microplastics is also present in soil used in agricultural landscapes. Sludge from municipal sewage treatment plants is used as a supplement to traditional fertilizers in agriculture areas. The sludge contains many substances including microplastics discharged from households, factories, and surface runoff in urban areas. Most of these microplastics get accumulated and transferred to agricultural soils. Hence, large quantities of microplastics, ranging from cosmetics to clothing and industrial processes are likely to end up on agricultural lands fertilized with urban sewage sludge.[7] The microplastics are flowing out of taps from New York to New Delhi, according to exclusive research by Orb and a researcher of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, more than 80% of samples collected from seven countries (including India) tested positive for the presence of plastic fibers.[8] The microplastics debris is fragmented into nanoplastics (0.001–0.1 μm) during industrial processing. No analytical methods exist for the identification and quantification of nanoplastics in food, water or air, or being released from machinery equipment and textiles polystyrene coffee-cup lids, etc. A nanoplastics can enter cells and accumulate in organs; the consequences for human health are not known.[9]

Virgin plastics are the resin produced directly from the petrochemical feedstock, such as natural gas or crude oil, which has never been used. Hence, internalized microplastics or nanoplastics might not only lead to direct physical injury but also to chemical exposure through ingestion of pollutants loaded with them. Human health may ultimately be affected by these plastics and/or contaminant chemicals (e.g., adsorbed pollutants, plastic additives) through the oral, inhalation, or dermal routes. Adverse effects from micro/nanoplastics may result from a combination of the plastic's intrinsic toxicity (e.g., physical damage); localized leaching of chemicals (eg., monomers and additives); and ability to adsorb, concentrate, and release environmental pollutants. Chronic exposure is anticipated to be of greater concern due to accumulative effects that could occur.[10] Additives of particular concern are phthalate plasticizers, bisphenol A (BPA), brominated flame retardants, and antimicrobial agents. BPA and phthalates are found in many mass-produced products including medical devices, food packaging, perfumes, cosmetics, toys, flooring materials, computers, and CDs and can represent a significant content of the plastic. Phthalates can leach out of products because they are not chemically bound to the plastic matrix. Phthalates and BPA are detectable in aquatic environments, in dust, and because of their volatility, in air. There is considerable concern about the adverse effects of these chemicals on wildlife and humans.[4]

BPA, a chemical, which is found in canned food, polycarbonate-bottled liquids, and other consumer products, is elevated in system. The higher urinary BPA concentrations are associated with obesity, diabetes, hypertension,[11],[12] and coronary artery disease [13] in adults [11] and obesity, in children and adolescents.[14] Thus, exposure to BPA seems to be an important risk factor in the onset of obesity and metabolic syndrome. The prenatal exposure to maternal BPA concentrations was related to higher levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, and hyperactivity in children, a systematic review recently has noted similar observations.[15] The researchers found the behaviors in BPA-exposed mice and their descendants that may parallel autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder in humans.[16] They noted that BPA does not cause mutations in DNA. Rather, the impact is “epigenetic– meaning that changes are transmitted not in DNA, but by affecting the way, genes are turned on and off.[17] Exposure to BPA is linked to Hashimoto's thyroiditis can evidence by markedly raised TPO antibodies, leading to hypothyroidism.[18] Similarly, BPA is being a week estrogen can cause disruption in the gonadal development, and sperm production; has previously been linked to fertility problems, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.[18]

Orb, a global journalistic multimedia outlet, recently published a report of a study that the tap water samples contained up to 57 microplastic particles/liter, with average global concentrations of 4.34/L (3.8/L for Europe). The authors estimate that we may consume 3000–4000 microplastic particles each year from tap water alone. While we generally assume that the water bottle is holding pure spring water, the microwave-safe plastic bowl we prepare our meals in, or the cup holding a hot drink is there protecting our food and drinks. The so-called mineral water, in bottles or cans contain mineral salts and oligo- elements and considered to be pure and germ free, hence it is preferred instead of tap water. However, most of the local suppliers do not maintain the World Health Organization standards (purification, concentration, and proportions of minerals, etc.). Umpteen numbers of brands of mineral water have cropped up; however, only a few carry “ISI” mark. The water kept for longer time in plastic bottles or these containers exposed to heat (vendors keep the bottles mostly in open) leaches out chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, and others becomes hazardous as discussed above. If plastic fibers are in your tap water, experts say they are surely in your food as well and also in baby formula, pasta, soups, and sauces, whether from the kitchen or the grocery.[19],[20] Whether BPA and phthalate-free plastics will be really toxin-free is yet to be proved.

We definitely need to take some public health measures, like a comprehensive study to establish. toxic characteristics and behavior of microplastics and nanoplastics in the body and determining a safe threshold for plastic exposure whether ingested or inhaled.[21] Measures such as conversion of waste to energy, recycling and repurposing the plastics, and increasing public awareness, minimizing the use of plastics wherever it is possible. Can be revert back to use glass steel, or ceramic vessels instead of plastics? Whether some innovative materials can replace the plastics so to reduce health hazards.

This should knock us into our senses. We knew that this plastic is coming back to us through our food chain. Now, we see it is coming back to us through our drinking water. Do we have a way out says Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of Grameen Bank, in a tweet.

Plastic is a fantastic material, flexible, and unless burned essentially indestructible. However, while humanity has realized its benefits, it has yet to realize the cost!

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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