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      Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends

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          Abstract

          Plastics have transformed everyday life; usage is increasing and annual production is likely to exceed 300 million tonnes by 2010. In this concluding paper to the Theme Issue on Plastics, the Environment and Human Health, we synthesize current understanding of the benefits and concerns surrounding the use of plastics and look to future priorities, challenges and opportunities. It is evident that plastics bring many societal benefits and offer future technological and medical advances. However, concerns about usage and disposal are diverse and include accumulation of waste in landfills and in natural habitats, physical problems for wildlife resulting from ingestion or entanglement in plastic, the leaching of chemicals from plastic products and the potential for plastics to transfer chemicals to wildlife and humans. However, perhaps the most important overriding concern, which is implicit throughout this volume, is that our current usage is not sustainable. Around 4 per cent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics and a similar amount is used as energy in the process. Yet over a third of current production is used to make items of packaging, which are then rapidly discarded. Given our declining reserves of fossil fuels, and finite capacity for disposal of waste to landfill, this linear use of hydrocarbons, via packaging and other short-lived applications of plastic, is simply not sustainable. There are solutions, including material reduction, design for end-of-life recyclability, increased recycling capacity, development of bio-based feedstocks, strategies to reduce littering, the application of green chemistry life-cycle analyses and revised risk assessment approaches. Such measures will be most effective through the combined actions of the public, industry, scientists and policymakers. There is some urgency, as the quantity of plastics produced in the first 10 years of the current century is likely to approach the quantity produced in the entire century that preceded.

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          Most cited references 77

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          Transport and release of chemicals from plastics to the environment and to wildlife.

          Plastics debris in the marine environment, including resin pellets, fragments and microscopic plastic fragments, contain organic contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum hydrocarbons, organochlorine pesticides (2,2'-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane, hexachlorinated hexanes), polybrominated diphenylethers, alkylphenols and bisphenol A, at concentrations from sub ng g(-1) to microg g(-1). Some of these compounds are added during plastics manufacture, while others adsorb from the surrounding seawater. Concentrations of hydrophobic contaminants adsorbed on plastics showed distinct spatial variations reflecting global pollution patterns. Model calculations and experimental observations consistently show that polyethylene accumulates more organic contaminants than other plastics such as polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride. Both a mathematical model using equilibrium partitioning and experimental data have demonstrated the transfer of contaminants from plastic to organisms. A feeding experiment indicated that PCBs could transfer from contaminated plastics to streaked shearwater chicks. Plasticizers, other plastics additives and constitutional monomers also present potential threats in terrestrial environments because they can leach from waste disposal sites into groundwater and/or surface waters. Leaching and degradation of plasticizers and polymers are complex phenomena dependent on environmental conditions in the landfill and the chemical properties of each additive. Bisphenol A concentrations in leachates from municipal waste disposal sites in tropical Asia ranged from sub microg l(-1) to mg l(-1) and were correlated with the level of economic development.
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            Polylactic Acid Technology

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              Lost at sea: where is all the plastic?

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
                Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B
                The Royal Society
                0962-8436
                1471-2970
                July 27 2009
                July 27 2009
                July 27 2009
                : 364
                : 1526
                : 2153-2166
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK
                [2 ]Algalita Marine Research Foundation, Long Beach, CA 90803, USA
                [3 ]Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65201, USA
                [4 ]Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14642, USA
                Article
                10.1098/rstb.2009.0053
                2873021
                19528062
                © 2009

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