It’s time to move beyond plastic

Single-use plastics are harmful to our health and our environment. It’s time to take action and shift from disposable to reusable products.

Juliana Clejan

What if I told you that every week, we consume a credit card worth of plastic? Yes, you read that right, the same plastic wrapping up nearly everything you buy, is making its way inside your body, every day and every week.

While eating a credit card worth of plastic may sound a bit unappetizing, it’s actually a serious health problem. That’s because most consumer plastics contain harmful chemicals that over long-term exposure can permanently impact our health. 

Perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, are a group of chemicals used in plastic containers for food, drinks, personal care products, pharmaceuticals and cleaning products. Studies have suggested that these  chemicals can cause cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. While PFAs have been banned in five states, the majority of the country has no restrictions, leaving consumers unprotected and unaware that they are damaging their health. PFAs accumulate over time and don’t break down, both in the environment and in our bodies, meaning that any exposure is lifelong. 

Unfortunately, the list of harmful chemicals found in plastic products does not end with PFAS. Phthalates, found in hundreds of products, have been linked to obesity, reduced fertility, preterm birth, low birthweight and other birth defects, asthma symptoms and altered toddler behavior. Styrene which is used to make plastics and rubber, is a carcinogen, causing cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma. 

We should stop exposing ourselves to these chemicals. It’s time to take action to protect our bodies.  Going forward, we need to start prioritizing our health, and the health of our environment, over single-use plastic. 

PIRG is already working on solutions to address the single-use plastic problem facing our country. At the state and local level, we’re promoting bills to ban unnecessary products such as single-use plastic grocery bags and polystyrene foam, also known as Styrofoam. Twelve states have already passed legislation to ban single-use plastic bags or foam and scores of municipalities in other states have passed ordinances restricting plastic consumption as well. But we need to go further.  

Our report, Trash in America: Moving from destructive consumption towards a zero-waste system, details the 10 steps we need to take to end our plastic waste problem. One important step outlined in the report is to pass the federal  Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which builds on state laws across the country, from bottle bills to bans on the worst single-use plastics, to comprehensively address our country’s growing plastic waste problem.

Consciously changing our own habits is a clear and direct way to take action, something we can all do, but it won’t be enough. We need to require producers to take responsibility for their products throughout each item’s entire life cycle; make recycling and composting mandatory, universally accessible and less expensive than garbage disposal; and call on our legislators, as our elected representatives, to ask them to act on our behalf and propose or support legislation that eliminates single-use plastic. 

The bottom line: We must eliminate single-use plastics. If we don’t, we may find ourselves consuming more than just one credit card worth of plastic per week. Instead, let’s work toward a future where we don’t have to consume any harmful plastic chemicals in the first place.


Juliana Clejan

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