A new report traces the life cycle of plastic from the moment an oil and gas well is drilled to the time plastic trash breaks down in the environment, finding “distinct risks to human health” at every stage.
Virtually all plastic — 99 percent of it, according to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) report — comes from fossil fuels. And a growing slice comes from fracked oil and gas wells and the natural gas liquids (NGLs) they produce.
The report concluded that plastics bring toxic or carcinogenic health risks to people at every stage.
“Until we confront the impacts of the full plastic lifecycle, the current piecemeal approach to addressing the plastic pollution crisis will not succeed,” the report concludes. “At every stage of its life cycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals.”
People can be sickened not only when plastics are produced, in other words, but also while plastic is actively used by consumers and then again after it’s thrown out, where plastic trash often breaks down into smaller and smaller bits that can contaminate the food chain and make its way into people’s bodies.
The scope of the risks requires an international response, the center said.
“Both the supply chains and the impacts of plastic cross and re-cross borders, continents, and oceans,” said David Azoulay, the center’s Director of Environmental Health. “No country can effectively protect its citizens from those impacts on its own, and no global instrument exists today to fully address the toxic life cycle of plastics.”
In the U.S., however, a major push is underway — and attracting hundreds of billions in investment, both foreign and domestic — to move in the opposite direction and produce more plastics and other petrochemicals.
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