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Alabi et al. J Toxicol Risk Assess 2019, 5:021
Volume 5 | Issue 2
Toxicology and Risk Assessment
Citaon: Alabi OA, Ologbonjaye KI, Awosolu O, Alalade OE (2019) Public and Environmental Health
Eects of Plasc Wastes Disposal: A Review. J Toxicol Risk Assess 5:021. doi.org/10.23937/2572-
Accepted: April 10, 2019: Published: April 12, 2019
Copyright: © 2019 Alabi OA, et al. This is an open-access arcle distributed under the terms of the
Creave Commons Aribuon License, which permits unrestricted use, distribuon, and reproducon
in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Alabi et al. J Toxicol Risk Assess 2019, 5:021 • Page 1 of 13 •
Public and Environmental Health Eects of Plasc Wastes Disposal:
Okunola A Alabi1*, Kehinde I Ologbonjaye1, Oluwaseun Awosolu12
1Department of Biology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria
2Department of Social Studies, Federal College of Educaon, Oyo State, Nigeria
*Corresponding author: Okunola A Alabi, Department of Biology, Federal University of Technology,
Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria
Since 1950 to 2018, about 6.3 billion tonnes of plastics have
been produced worldwide, 9% and 12% of which have been
recycled and incinerated, respectively. Human population
increase and consistent demand for plastics and plastic
products are responsible for continuous increase in the
production of plastics, generation of plastic waste and its
accompanied environmental pollution. We have reviewed
in this paper, the most relevant literatures on the different
types of plastics in production, the hazardous chemical con-
stituents, prevailing disposal methods and the detrimental
effects of these constituents to air, water, soil, organisms
and human health viz-a-viz the different disposal methods.
Papers that reported environmental and public health ef-
fects of plastic constituents but not plastics directly were
also reviewed. Varieties of plastics used in the production of
many consumable products including medical devices, food
packaging and water bottles contain toxic chemicals like
phthalates, heavy metals, bisphenol A. brominated ame
retardants, nonylphenol, polychlorinated biphenylethers,
dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene, phenanthrene etc. An
estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic is yearly released into
the ocean, leading to degradation of marine habitat which
eventually affects aquatic organisms. Long term usage and
exposure of plastics and plastic products to high tempera-
ture can lead to leaching of toxic chemical constituents into
food, drinks and water. Indiscriminate disposal of plastics
on land and open air burning can lead to the release of toxic
chemicals into the air causing public health hazards. This
paper also presents recommendations for global prevention
and control of plastic wastes.
Plastic waste, Environmental contamination, Pollution,
Public health, Toxic chemicals
Plascs are made up of synthec organic polymers
which are widely used in dierent applicaons ranging
from water boles, clothing, food packaging, medical
supplies, electronic goods, construcon materials,
etc . In the last six decades, plascs became an
indispensable and versale product with a wide range
of properes, chemical composion and applicaons.
Although, plasc was inially assumed to be harmless
and inert, however, many years of plasc disposal
into the environment has led to diverse associated
problems. Environmental polluon by plasc wastes
is now recognized widely to be a major environmental
burden [2,3], especially in the aquac environment
where there is prolong biophysical breakdown of
plascs [4,5], detrimental negave eects on wildlife
[6,7], and limited plasc removal opons [5,7,8].
In many instances, sheeng and packaging plascs
are disposed of aer usage, however, because of
their durability, such plascs are located everywhere
and persistent in the environment. Research on the
monitoring and impacts of plasc wastes is sll at the
infancy stage, but thus far, the reports are worrisome.
In human occupaonal and residenal environment,
plascs made of petrol-based polymer are present in
high quanty. At the end-of-life of these plascs, they
are usually land-lled together with municipal solid
waste. Plascs have several toxic constuents among
which are phthalates, poly-uorinated chemicals,
bisphenol A (BPA), brominated ame retardants and
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Alabi et al. J Toxicol Risk Assess 2019, 5:021 • Page 2 of 13 •
anmony trioxide which can leach out to have adverse
eects on environmental and public health. Plascs
in electronic waste (e-waste) have become a serious
global environmental and public health concern due
to its large producon volume and the presence of
inadequate management policies in several countries.
Reports from China, Nigeria, and India indicated that
plasc hazardous substances from e-wastes can migrate
beyond the processing sites and into the environment
Global Producon of Plascs and Generaon
In modern life, plascs are ubiquitous. Its early
usage dated back to 1600 B.C., at the me when human
hands shaped natural rubber and polymerized into
dierent useful objects in prehistoric Mesoamerica
. Diverse usage and manufacturing of plascs and
plasc products began in 1839 when polystyrene (PS)
and vulcanized rubber were discovered . Producon
of bakelite which is the rst truly synthec polymer was
in 1907 in Belgium , however, by 1930, bakelite
was everywhere, especially in fashion, communicaon
and electrical and automove industries . It took
a decade aer this for mass producon of plascs to
begin and it has constantly expanded ever since.
As at 2008, the annual plasc producon was
esmated to be 245 million tons globally . At
present, single-use packaging is the largest sector,
accounng for almost 40% of the overall plasc usage
in Europe , this is followed by consumer goods,
materials for construcon, automove, electrical and
agriculture applicaons at 22%, 20%, 9%, 6% and 3%,
respecvely . It was esmated in 2015, that the
highest rate of producon is in Asia (with 49% of total
global output, with China as the largest world producer
(28%), followed by North America and Europe at 19%
each. In terms of producon, the rest regions are of
lesser importance although not necessarily in terms of
plasc consumpon .
Current World Producon Rate of Plascs
Globally, plasc producon was esmated to be 380
million tonnes in 2018. Since 1950 to 2018, plascs of
about 6.3 billion tonnes have been produced world-
wide, 9% and 12% of which have been recycled and
incinerated, respecvely . Plascs of about 5 mil-
lion tonnes are yearly consumed in UK alone, with only
about one-quarter recycled, and the rest landlled. It
has been suggested by researchers that by 2050, oceans
might contain more plascs than sh in terms of weight
. Yearly, approximately 500 billion plasc bags are
used out of which an esmated 13 million tonnes ends
up in the ocean, killing approximately 100,000 marine
Future Projecon of Producon of Plasc
Plasc producons has increased in twenty-fold
since 1964. Globally, approximately 311 million tonnes
of plascs were produced in 2014, expected to double
in about 20 year me and possibly quadruple by 2050
. Internaonal Energy Agency World Energy Outlook
in 2015 esmated that, the largest applicaon, plasc
packaging (26% of the overall volume), is envisaged to
have connuous strong growth, which might double
within 15 years, with a possibility of fourfold increase
by 2050, to about 318 million tonnes yearly, which is
higher than the whole plasc industry today.
There are dierent types of plascs based on
Table 1: Types of plastics, their properties and common uses.
Symbols Types of plastics Common uses Properties Recycled into
Soft drinks, water bottles,
containers, salad dressing,
biscuit trays and salad
Clear, tough, solvent resistant,
barrier to gas and moisture, softens
at 80 °C.
Pillow and sleeping
bag lling, clothing, soft
drink bottles, carpeting,
Shopping bags, freezer bags,
buckets, shampoo, milk
bottles, ice cream containers,
juice bottles, chemical and
detergent bottles, rigid
agricultural pipe, crates.
Hard to semi-exible, resistant
to chemicals and moisture, waxy
surface, opaque, softens at 75 °C,
easily coloured, processed and
plumbing pipes and ttings,
electrical conduct, blister
packs, wall cladding, roof
sheeting, bottles, garden
hose, Shoe soles, cable
sheathing, blood bags and
Strong, tough, softens at 80 °C, can
be clear, can be solvent welded.
Flexible, clear, elastic, can be
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Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a type of heat-resistant
polymer, is used for packaging fruit juice, cooking oil,
etc. PVC is considered highly toxic due to the presence
of chemical constuents like heavy metals, dioxins, BPA
and phthalates. Depending on non-plascizaon, PVC is
exible due to the presence of phthalates. Phthalates
are harmful to humans. The enre PVC life cycle which
include the producon, usage and disposal are capable
of causing severe environmental and public health risks,
hence, its usage has considerably reduced. However,
due to cost-eecveness and versality, PVC remains
very popular in the producon of consumer goods.
PVC have been reported to cause chronic bronchis,
birth defects, genec changes, cancer, skin diseases,
deafness, vision failure, ulcers, liver dysfuncon and
Low-density polyethylene is heat resistant, fragile,
flexible and rigid. It is commonly used in packaging
of milk, frozen foods and juices. Because the plastic
does not have any component that is harmful to hu-
man body, its usage is termed safe for beverages and
Polypropylene, a type of plascs, is strong and
semi-transparent. It is heavier and stronger than
polyethylene. It is used for packaging medicine, yogurt,
ketchup, beverage, etc. Plascs made of polypropylene
have no harmful substances and like polyethylene,
polypropylene containers are considered safe for
humans as packages for food and beverages .
their constuents and type of materials used in their
producon. Table 1 shows the dierent types of plascs,
their properes and common uses .
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a type of plasc
which is smooth, transparent and relavely thin. It is also
called stomach plascs. PET is commonly used during
disposable salad dressing, juice, mouthwash, vegetable
oil, cosmecs, so drinks, margarine and water boles
producon, because it is an-inammatory and fully
liquid. PET is also an-air, prevenng entrance of oxygen
into it . Anmony trioxide, an inorganic compound, is
used as a catalyst for the producon of PET and rubber
vulcanizaon . Plascs made from PET must be
prevented from high temperatures so as to prevent the
leaching of some toxic addives such as acetaldehyde,
anmony and phthalates. Anmony is a possible human
carcinogen . Generally, PET is manufactured for single
use only .
Worldwide, the most used plasc is polyethylene.
High-density polyethylene is a heat-resistant plasc
produced from petroleum. It is a major constuent of
refrigerators, detergent boles, toys, milk containers,
variees of plasc grocery bags, etc. No phthalates
or BPA is present in high-density polyethylene. High-
density polyethylene container is generally considered
safe for drink and food because it has no reported
health risk even though some studies showed that a
long me exposure of the plascs to sunlight can make
it harmful .
Refuse bags, Irrigation
tubings, mulch lm, cling
wrap, garbage bags,
Soft exible, waxy surface,
translucent, softens at 70 °C,
Bin liners, pallet sheets
Polypropylene (PP) Microwave dishes, lunch
boxes, packaging tape,
garden furniture, kettles,
bottles and ice cream tubs,
potato chip bags, straws
Hard and translucent, soften at
140 °C, translucent, withstands
Pegs, bins, pipes,
CD cases, plastic cutlery,
imitation glassware, low
cost brittle toys, video
cups, protective packaging,
building and food insulation
Clear, glassy rigid, opaque, semi-
tough, soften at 95 °C, Affected by
fat, acids and solvents, but resistant
to alkalis, salt solutions, Low water
absorption, when not pigmented is
clear, is odour and taste free.
Special types of Polystyrene
(PS) are available for special
Other Automotive and appliance
electronics, cooler bottles,
Includes all resins and multi-
materials (e.g. laminates)
properties dependent on plastic or
combination of plastics
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environment might be higher than that of macroplascs
[27-29], although studies and legislaons to manage
plasc polluon are sll inadequate.
Management of Plasc Wastes
Approximately 10% of household waste is plascs
and mostly end up on the landll . Even though
landlling is the commonest waste management con-
venonal approach in many countries, however, scar-
city of space for landlls is becoming a major problem.
For example, historically, landlling was aracve in
the UK because it is relavely cheap and simple with-
out necessarily requiring treatment, cleaning or separa-
on. In 1999, 65% (8.4 million tonnes per annum) of the
overall household waste recoverable plascs were sent
to landll in Western Europe , but at present in the
UK, plasc waste landlling is the least favoured waste
management opon. There is a growing environmental
and public health concern about the potenal eects
of landlls because of the types and quanes of tox-
ic chemicals and their potenal for leaching at landll
sites . It is now a government policy in the UK to re-
duce the amount of wastes landlled (e.g. Landll Direc-
ve European Commission 1999/31/EC) which has been
dicult to materialize as an esmated 60% of England’s
municipal wastes is sll sent to the landlls compared to
an esmated of 20% and 37% in Germany and France,
Environmental polluon and risks to public health
can be reduced if the landlls are well-managed,
although there are possibilies of soil and groundwater
contaminaon by disintegrated plasc byproducts and
addives that can persist in the environment on long-
term basis [34,35].
An alternave to landlling of plasc waste is
incineraon, but growing concerns exist about the
potenal atmospheric release of hazardous chemicals
during the process. For instance, plasc waste fumes
release halogenated addives and polyvinyl chloride,
while furans, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs) are released from incineraon of plascs into the
environment . The disadvantage of combuson of
plascs is the air polluon caused by the noxious fumes
released into the atmospheres. The combuson heater
of the ue systems is permanently damaged by plascs
during plasc incineraon and the products of this
plasc combuson are detrimental to both humans and
the environment. Compounds of low molecular weight
can vaporize directly into the air thereby pollung
the air and based on their variees, some may form a
combusble mixture, while others may oxidize in solid
Incineraon of plascs is usually accompanied with
Polystyrene, a type of petroleum-based plasc,
contains benzene which is carcinogenic to humans
. Polystyrene is commonly used in the producon
of insulators and packaging materials. Products from
styrene are hazardous to health. Report of Dowty,
et al.  showed that a long-term exposure to small
quanty of styrene can be neurotoxic and causing
cytogenec, carcinogenic and hematological eects.
The Internaonal Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
has categorized styrene as a human carcinogen .
Polycarbonates are used for packaging consumer
goods such as reusable boles. It contains BPA. Due to
exposure to high temperature, BPA can be leached from
polycarbonated container into the drink or food stored
in them. Because BPA’s health risk has been reported
in several studies, the usage of polycarbonated plascs
have greatly decreased .
Size of plascs: Macro and microplascs
Size of plascs can be used for their classicaon,
aside the plasc types and their chemical composion.
There are two major classicaon of plascs at sea: 1)
Macro (these are plascs higher 20 mm in diameter) and;
2) Micro (plascs which are less than 5 mm in diameter)
plascs. Of these two plasc sizes, the microplascs are
the major pollutants documented for deteriorang the
ecosystem. This microplascs are either produced by
design and are called primary microplascs, or they are
formed as a result of degradaon of macroplasc called
secondary microplascs [23,24].
The major issues in plasc waste centered around
the microplascs due to an increase diculty in their
monitoring and a greater eect at the physical and
chemical levels on environmental and public health,
because of their higher volume-to-surface area rao
. Inadequate waste management and indiscriminate
dumping are the major routes of entry of microplascs
into the marine environment . Direct producon of
microplascs such as plasc pellets is common, as such
are used in fabricang larger items as raw material,
however, microplascs can also be produced through
mechanical disintegraon of larger plascs or plasc
products. This is the case in the breakdown of plasc
ropes to ner laments such as microbers.
Environmental release of large quanes of
microplascs is in form of cosmec products and cleaning
ingredients such as toothpaste and microbeads in face-
wash. Because of the health eects of microplascs,
countries like Canada, USA and others are now phasing
out their usage in certain personal care products.
Reports of recent research suggest that the detrimental
eects of microplascs especially microbeads, micro
plasc bres and degraded macroplascs in aquac
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into usable products is called plasc recycling. Most
plascs are non-biodegradable in nature, hence, the
fundamental work is reducon of waste emissions,
eecve management and recycling of resulng wastes
[38,39]. Recycling of plascs is a major aspect of the
worldwide eorts in minimizing the yearly 8 million
tonnes of plascs in the waste stream entering the
Earth’s ocean [8,40]. According to Hopewell, et al. ,
plasc recycling terminology is complex due to variees
of recovery acvies and recycling. There are four
main categories of recycling which are: primary (which
involves the mechanical reprocessing of plascs into
a new product with equivalent properes), secondary
(which involves the mechanical reprocessing of plascs
into a product with lower properes), terary (which
involves the recovery of the chemical constuents of
the plascs) and quaternary (which involves energy
recovery from the plascs).
In comparison to the lucrave metal recycling but
similar to the low value of glass recycling, recycling of
plascs is oen more challenging because of low densi-
ty and low value. Also, there are several technical issues
to deal with when recycling plasc. Melng together
of dierent plasc types oen cause phase-separaon
similar to oil and water, and they set in these layers. The
resulng phase boundaries is responsible for structural
weakness in the nal product(s), which has limited the
applicaon of this polymer blends. This is the case with
polyethylene and polypropylene, which are the two
plascs commonly manufactured, and therefore has
limited their use for recycling. Of recent, block copoly-
mers has been proposed as a form of macromolecular
welding ux  or molecular stches  in other to
overcome this challenge of phase-separaon during
the formaon of chark, and the coking extent is depen-
dent on the condions of incineraon . Gaseous
release in the process of plasc and plasc composite
products incineraon are very dangerous. For exam-
ple, Table 2 shows the compounds release during the
incineraon of PVC and the health eects of these com-
pounds. In the process of incineraon of plascs, soot,
ashes and dierent powders are produced, which even-
tually seles on plants and soil, with the potenal to
migrate to the aquac environment. Rainfall can make
some of these toxic compounds to sink into the soil,
contaminate the ground water or absorbed by plants
growing on this soil, thus, becoming incorporated into
the food chain. Some of these plasc incineraon prod-
ucts can chemically react with water and the resulng
compounds can alter the pH thereby change the func-
oning of aquac ecosystems.
Due to the potenal polluon impact on the
environment, plasc incineraon is less employed for
waste management in comparison to recycling and
landlling. Notable excepons to this are European
countries like Sweden and Denmark, as well as Japan,
with massive incinerator facilies for managing
municipal solid waste including plascs. However,
countries like Hungary has enacted regulaons, 29/2014.
(XI. 28.) Regulaon of the Ministry of Agriculture on
waste incineraon, which allow for only licensed plasc
waste incineraon plants to incinerate plascs, while all
other forms of burning plasc waste are banned .
An advantage of plasc incineraon is the recovery of
energy from the plasc wastes .
Recycling of plascs
Reprocessing of recovered plasc scraps or wastes
Table 2: Compounds generated during the incineration of polyvinylchloride and their harmful effects.
Compound Health effect(s)
Acetaldehyde It damages the nervous system, causing lesions.
Acetone Irritates the eyes, the respiratory tract.
Benzaldehyde Irritates the eyes, skin, respiratory system, limits brain function.
Benzole Carcinogenic, adversely effects the bone marrow, the liver, the immune system.
Formaldehyde Serious eye damage, carcinogenic, may cause pulmonary oede ma.
Phosgene Gas used in the WWI. Corrosive to the eyes, skin and respiratory organs.
Polychlorinated dibenzo-dioxin Carcinogenic, irritates the skin, eyes and respiratory system. It damages the circulatory,
digestive and nervous system, liver, bone marrow.
Polychlorinated dibenzofuran Irritates the eyes and the respiratory system, causes asthma.
Hydrochloric acid Corrosive to the eyes, the skin and the respiratory tract.
Salicyl-aldehyde Irritates the eyes, the skin and the respiratory tract. It can also affect the central nervous system.
Toluene Irritates the eyes and the respiratory tract, can cause depression.
Xylene Irritates the eyes. It can also affect the central nervous system, reduces the level of
consciousness and impairs learning ability.
Propylene Damages the central nervous system by lowering of conscious ness.
Vinyl chloride Carcinogenic, irritating to eyes, skin and respiratory system. Effect on the central nervous
system, liver, spleen, blood-forming organs.
Source: Nagy and Kuti .
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In human occupaonal and residenal environment,
plasc products are present in large volume. Polluon
by plascs and plasc products can damage and con-
taminate the terrestrial environment and can be subse-
quently transferred to the aquac environment. There
is a shortage of data on the volume of plasc wastes on
land in comparison to the voluminous data which exist
on plasc debris in marine habitat, despite the fact that
about 80% of plasc waste present at sea originates
from land-related sources . Dumping of plascs on
land or landlling plascs leads to abioc and bioc
degradaon of the plascs, where plasc addives (e.g.
stabilizers, harmful colorant moiees, plascizers and
heavy metals) can leach and eventually percolate into
various aspects of the environment, thereby causing
soil and water contaminaon. Reports have shown that
microplascs  as well as synthec polymer bres are
sll detectable ve years aer they have been applied
to sewage sludge and soils . Chlorinated plascs
are capable of leaching out toxic chemicals into the soil
and subsequently seep into the underground water or
surrounding aquac system thereby pollung the eco-
system. Methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, which
signicantly contributes to global warming is released
during microbial biodegradaon of plascs .
Approximately 165 million tonnes of plasc wastes
were esmated to be present in the oceans of the world
in 2012 , while an average of 8 million tonnes of
plascs are annually released into the ocean , with
about 5 trillion plasc pieces oang on the ocean .
Typically, plascs in the oceans can degrade within a
year but not completely. During this plasc degradaon
process, toxic chemicals like polystyrene and BPA
can be released into the water  causing water
polluon. Wastes found in the oceans are made up of
approximately 80% plascs. Plasc debris which are
oang on the ocean can be rapidly colonized by sea
organisms and due to persistence on the ocean surface
for a long period of me, this mayaid the movement
of ‘alien’ or non-nave species [61-63]. Contaminants
from microplascs are bioavailable for many marine
lives because of their presence in benthic and pelagic
ecosystems and their small sizes . Within the marine
ecosystem, plascs have been reported to concentrate
and sorb contaminants present in the seawater from
dierent other sources. Examples of such contaminants
are persistent organic pollutants like nonylphenol,
PCBs, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and
phenanthrene, with potenal to accumulate in several
fold on the plasc debris compared to the surrounding
seawater . More than 260 species of marine
organisms such as turtles, invertebrates, seabirds, sh
and mammals ingested or are entangled in or with
plasc debris, leading to reduced movement, feeding,
plasc recycling .
There can be increase in the percentage of plascs
with the possibility of full recycling instead of the
large quanty generated as wastes if package good
manufacturers reduce their mixing of packaging
materials and eliminate contaminants. In view of this,
a design guide has been issued by the Associaon
of Plascs Recyclers for recyclability of plascs .
There has been an increase in the volume of post-
consumer plascs recycled since 1990, although it is sll
incomparable to other items like corrugated berboard
(approximately 70%) and newspaper (approximately
80%) . For example, in US, the post-consumer
plasc wastes generated in 2008 was approximately
33.6 million tons, out of which 6.5% (2.2 million tons)
were recycled, while 8% (2.6 million tons) and 86% (28.9
million tons) were burned and landlled, respecvely
Some governments use policy to encourage
postconsumer recycling, such as the EU Direcve
on packaging and packaging waste (94/62/EC). This
subsequently led Germany to set-up legislaon for
extended producer responsibility that resulted in the
die Gru¨nePunkt (Green Dot) scheme to implement
recovery and recycling of packaging. In the UK, producer
responsibility was enacted through a scheme for
generang and trading packaging recovery notes, plus
more recently a landll levy to fund a range of waste
reducon acvies. As a consequence of all the above
trends, the market value of recycled polymer and hence
the viability of recycling have increased markedly over
the last few years, Globally in 2015, about 9% of the 6.3
billion tons plasc wastes generated had been recycled,
while 12% and 79% were incinerated and landlled,
respecvely . However, in 2016, the global rate
of recycling grew to about 14% of the total generated
plasc waste . Major contributors to this increment
include countries like Japan, where plasc waste
recycling rose from 39% (1996) to 83% (2014) according
to their Plasc Waste Management Instute .
Environmental polluon by plasc wastes
Distribuon of plasc waste is associated with hu-
man populaons. Increase in human populaon has led
to increase demands for plascs and plasc products.
Indiscriminate disposal of wastes from plascs and plas-
c products can lead to environmental polluon which
is evident in several ways including environmental nat-
ural beauty deterioraon , entanglement and death
of aquac organisms [50,51], sewage system blockage
in towns and cies especially in developing countries
, resulng in creang conducive environment for
breeding mosquitoes and other disease causing vectors
and producon of foul smells , reducon in water
percolaon and normal agricultural soils aeraon thus
causing reduced producvity in such lands .
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Most animals in the oceans mistaking plasc wastes
dumped in the ocean for food, thereby ingesng them.
Furthermore, entanglement in plasc products like nets
can cause harm, damage and even death in marine
animals. Reports have shown that more than 260
dierent species of vertebrate and invertebrate animals
ingest plascs or are entangled by plasc or plasc
products, with more than 400,000 deaths of marine
mammals . Marine polluon by plasc wastes
majorly aects sea turtles and other species whose
main food are jelly shes because they oen confuse
discarded plasc bags for jelly sh. A similar situaon
is common in sea birds which can confuse microplascs
for culesh or with shes, which can mistake plasc
wastes for their natural prey . Ingeson of plasc
wastes is capable of causing obstrucon and physical
damage to bird’s digesve system, reduce the digesve
ability of the system leading to starvaon, malnutrion
and eventually, death.
Many birds, turtles, shes, seals and other marine
animals have died by drowning or suocaon as a
result of entanglement in plasc debris. Entanglement
has been observed to cause health risks in esmated
243 species of marine lives, oen ending in fatalies.
Animal entanglement by plasc debris also contributes
to death from predators, as the animals are unable
to untangle themselves and escape . Coral reefs
have been damaged by dragging nets and other plasc
products along sea beds . Oen mes, discarded
shing nets also called “ghost nets” trap marine
animals, leading to starvaon and death. Table 3 shows
the eects of dierent types of plascs on animals and
the mechanism(s) of acon.
reproducve output, ulcers, laceraons and eventual
Carbon dioxide and methane are released into the
air when plasc wastes which were landlled nally
decompose. During the decomposion of solid waste in
landlls in 2008, an esmated CO2 equivalent (eqCO2)
volume released into the atmosphere was 20 million
tonnes. CO2 is also released into the atmosphere during
the burning of plascs and plasc products, and this CO2
is capable of trapping radiant heat and hinder it from
escaping from the earth causing global warming .
Air polluon is one of the major environmental threats
to public health, and it is responsible for more than 6
million deaths associated with environmental polluon
. Open burning of plascs and plasc products
releases pollutants such as heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs
and furans which when inhaled can cause health risks
especially respiratory disorders. The role of plascs in
air polluon in the developing and poor countries of the
world cannot be overemphasized, and the impact on
the future generaons may be massive .
Eects of Plasc Wastes on Animals
Food supplies for human consumpon can be
adversely aected if animals are poisoned by toxic
constuents from wastes of plascs and plasc products
. Indeed, report of threat to survival of large marine
mammals have been documented due to large amount
of plasc wastes entering the world oceans .
Animals are exposed to plasc wastes majorly
through ingeson and entanglement, however,
ingeson is more frequent than entanglement.
Table 3: Effects of plastic wastes on animals and their mechanism(s) of action.
Species Specie variant Plastic type Effects
Sea Bird Greater Shearwater Plastic bottle cap Starvation due to gastrointestinal obstruction
Magellanic penguin Fragments, line and straws Stomach perforation
Sea Turtles Green sea turtles Plastic bags and other debris Impediment of hatchling movement towards the sea,
exposure to predators
Leatherback turtle Plastic bags and debris Blocked and injures cloaca, impedes laying of eggs
Bigeye tuna Fragment line Ingestion of plastic fragments
Japanese medaka Particulate plastic Hepatic stress from exposure to plastic pollutant
Orchid dottyback Plastic bags Leached nonophenol additives caused mortality
Larva Perch Microplastic particles Inhibited hatching, decreased growth rate and
Mammals Fur seal Plastic particles Bioaccumulation of particulate plastic from prey sh
Sperm Whale Plastic bags and debris Stomach rupture and starvation
Australia Sea lion Plastic shing gear Entanglement caused mortality
Urchin larva Polyethylene pellets Plastic leachates caused abdominal development
Mussels Microplastic particles Accumulation of microplastic in circulatory system
Oyster Microplastic particles Interference with energy uptake and reproduction
Norway lobster Plastic strands and particles Ingestion and accumulation of plastics in the gut
Source: Worm, et al. .
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basic items that can breakdown plasc polymers, expo-
sure of the plasc container to high temperature, and by
repeated washing of the plasc container [77,78]. BPA
is an endocrine disruptor which mimics oestrogen in fe-
males. Women exposed to BPA have damaged health
system such as polycyclic ovarian syndrome, obesity,
recurrent miscarriages, endometrial hyperplasia and
sterility [79-81]. BPA alters thyroid hormone axis gene
expression, thereby altering its biological funcons like
metabolism and development. Also, BPA increases thy-
roid hormone receptor transcriponal corepressor ac-
vity causing a decreasing in thyroid hormone receptor
acvity. This alteraon to thyroid axis causes hypothy-
roidism . Exposure of children and women of repro-
ducve age to elevated concentraon of BPA is of great
public health concern because of the higher vulnerabil-
ity of children and developing foetus to BPA compared
to adults exposed to similar concentraon . Studies
have reported a strong associaon between the con-
centraon of urinary BPA and liver enzyme abnormal-
ies, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes .
Also, BPA associated neuro-behavioural disorders (e.g.
ausm),male’s abnormal urethra/penile development,
female early sexual maturaon and increase in hormon-
ally-mediated cancers (e.g. breast and prostate cancers)
have been reported [85-87].
Phthalates, also called 1, 2-benzenedicarboxylic
acids, consist of a diverse groups of diesters of phthalic
acid which are produced in large volumes from the
1930s. In industrial applicaons, parcularly in the
manufacture of food packaging, raincoats, medical
devices, toys, hoses, vinyl ooring and shower
curtains, high molecular weight phthalates (e.g. di(2-
ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)) are commonly used [88-
90]. Phthalates with low molecular weight especially
Public Health Eects of Plasc Wastes
It is generally believed that plasc polymers are
lethargic and of lile concern to public health, however,
dierent types of addives and the residual monomers
possibly retained from these polymers are responsible
for the suspected health risks . Most of the addives
present in plascs are potenal carcinogens and
endocrine disruptors . Ingeson, skin contact and
inhalaon are the main routes of exposure of humans
to these addives. Dermas have been reported
from skin contact with some of the addives present in
plascs . Microplascs are major contaminants that
can bioaccumulate in the food chain aer ingeson by a
wide range of freshwater and marine lives leading to a
public health risk . Human consumpon of animals
exposed to microplascs and plasc addives can be
detrimental. Biomonitoring studies on human ssues
have shown that plasc constuents persist in human
populaon through the measurement of environmental
Public Health Eects of Plasc Addives
Dierent addives are used in the producon of
plascs and they have been reported to have various
detrimental eects on humans. Table 4 shows the
dierent types of addives use in plasc producon,
their eects and the types of plascs .
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Inner linings of food cans, reusable water boles,
and baby boles are manufactured using BPA. In 2003,
an esmated global output of BPA was greater than 2.2
million metric tonnes annually . As a result of re-
peated usage of beverage and food containers over a
long period of me, BPA molecules can leach from the
plascs into the drinks and food. The process of BPA
leaching from plascs is accelerated by storing acidic or
Table 4: Different additives used in plastic production, their effects and the plastic types.
Toxic Additives Uses Public health effect(S) Plastic types
Bisphenol A Plasticizers, can liner Mimics oestrogen, Ovarian
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC),
Phthalates Plasticizers, articial fragrances Interference with testosterone,
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Pesticides, ame retardants, etc. Possible neurological and
Dioxins Formed during low temperature
combustion of PVC
Carcinogen, interferes with
Use in making pesticides Developmental and reproductive
Dielectrics in electrical equipment Interferes with thyroid hormone All plastics
Styrene monomer Breakdown product Carcinogen, can form DNA
Nonylphenol Anti-static, anti-fog, surfactant (in
Mimics oestrogen PVC
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ed with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for the last-
70years, parcularly in seabirds . PCBs ingeson
may cause reproducve disorders, enhance disease pro-
liferaon, alters hormone levels and death [104,105].
PCBs can contaminate marine food web through the
plasc bits and it has been shown that PCB is detrimen-
tal to marine life even at very low concentraons .
The study of Ryan, et al.  showed the presence of
PCBs in the ssue of great shearwaters (Punus gravis)
aer ingeson of plasc parcles.
Recommendaons on Reducon and Control
of Plasc Wastes
Many countries are laboring on controlling
environmental polluon by plasc wastes by reducing
plascs and plasc product’s producon, prohibion
of excessive packaging, lier capture and recycling.
In the struggle against plasc polluon, the following
recommendaons might be helpful:
To combat and curb persistent environmental
polluon by plascs, there is need for realisc policies
which must be properly followed and enforced.
This should include the need for global convenon
on environmental polluon by plascs to mandate
plasc producers to declare all ingredients in their
plasc products and put a warning on the products
for consumers about the potenally health eects
of such constuents. Policies to classify some of the
harmful ingredients in plasc products should be
enacted. Successful precedents exist including the
1989 reclassicaon of chlorouorocarbons (CFCs) as
hazardous (Montreal Protocol) and persistent organic
pollutants in 2004 (Stockholm Convenon) .
This led around 200 countries to completely stop the
producon of CFCs in the next 7 years and 30 other
This type of reclassicaon might also smulate re-
search into new and harmless alternaves, which will
improve our plasc waste management, and hinder
connuous buildup of plasc wastes in the environ-
ment. It is also important for government to enforce
and implement regulaons that will check producon,
consumpon, usage and eventual disposal of plascs,
irrespecve of their hazardous status. The 3Rs: Reduce,
Reuse, and Recycle must be employed at all stages so as
to prevent zero diversion to landlls and indiscriminate
disposal to the environment .
Plasc waste management and recycling
In reducing toxic eects of plasc wastes on the
environment and public health, waste management
plays a major role. For global reducon of plasc liers
and ocean polluon, there is need for improvement in
proper plasc waste collecon, treatment and disposal
. Inadequate management of landlls will make way
dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP)
are used as solvents in the manufacture of products
such as lacquers, coangs, varnishes and personal-care
products (e.g. cosmecs, perfumes and loons) .
Lack of chemical bound between phthalates and the
plasc matrix makes it easy for phthalates to leach out
and contaminate the environmental [92,93]. Due to the
presence of phthalates in many consumer goods, there
is widespread human exposure to phthalate.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors with an-
androgenic acvity . Children and infants are
mostly exposed to phthalates because of their frequent
mouthing of objects like plasc toys and ngers,
and direct skin contact with phthalate contaminated
substances. Ingeson of phthalates in breast milk,
cow milk, or food packaging materials are the main
routes of exposure in breast feeding infants . Using
personal care products frequently can increase the rate
of exposure to phthalates of low molecular weight,
indeed, report have shown that men who recently
used aershave and cologne have increased phthalate
exposure, while infants that used certain infant-care
products such as shampoos, loons and powders
also showed increased exposure . High phthalate
concentraon alters hormone levels thus causing
birth defects in rodents exposed to certain types of
phthalates. Butyl benzyl phthalate have been reported
to cause rhinis and eczema in children and has been
classied as possible class-Chuman carcinogen in the
1986 US EPA guidelines .
Brominated ame retardant
In the producon of plascs, brominated ame
retardants are raw materials used for safety purposes.
The most commonly used brominated ame retardants
in plasc producon are tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA)
and polybrominateddiphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These are
present in a variety of plasc products such as electronic
thermoplascs (e.g. computers, phones and televisions)
and texles . About 5-30% by weight of plasc
products are PBDEs and they are not chemically bound
to the polymer making it possible for PBDEs to leach
out and contaminate surrounding environment .
PBDEs and TBBPA are hormone disruptors, altering the
acvies of thyroid hormones and oestrogen, thereby
causing impaired development of both the nervous
and reproducve systems . Plasc materials which
contain TBBPA have been reported to leach TBBPA
, and contaminang sewage sludge , sh, bird,
sediments, soils  and air . High concentraon
of PBDEs have been observed in serum, breast milk and
adipose ssue in exposed individuals. On a pro-kilogram
basis, children have a higher exposure rate to PBDEs
than adults .
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Marine food web has been connuously pollut-
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and public health eects can be handled if globally,
manufacturers can embrace the use of bioplascs.
The biodegradability with lile or no toxic products
le behind will go a long way to protect our natural
environment from the menace of convenonal plasc
wastes, protect our world’s organisms and make the
world safer for humans.
Researches on worldwide producon of plascs
and the accompanied environmental polluon have
shown that plasc wastes have constuted a major
environmental issue. The eect of plasc wastes on
marine organisms, humans and the environment at
large is of public concern, and calls for the need to
salvage the ecosystems and lives therein. Despite the
fact that plascs are very useful in everyday life, the
toxic chemicals used in the producon need to be
thoroughly monitored so as to ensure environmental
and health safety. Reducing community’s exposure to
toxicants from plasc wastes will increase the chances
of having a clean environment and healthy society.
There is a urgent need for government agencies and
health authories to enact and enforce environmental
laws that will monitor producon, usage and disposal of
plascs. In addion, some harmful chemical constuents
used in the producon of plascs (e.g. phthalates, BPA,
etc) should be banned in consumer goods and in plasc
products that are in direct contact with food, beverages
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