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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 22, 2013

Plastics and environmental health: the road ahead

Emily J. North and Rolf U. Halden

Abstract

Plastics continue to benefit society in innumerable ways, even though recent public focus on plastics has centered mostly on human health and environmental concerns, including their endocrine-disrupting properties and the long-term pollution they represent. The benefits of plastics are particularly apparent in medicine and public health. Plastics are versatile, cost-effective, require less energy to produce than alternative materials like metal or glass, and can be manufactured to have many different properties. Due to these characteristics, polymers are used in diverse health applications like disposable syringes and intravenous bags, sterile packaging for medical instruments as well as in joint replacements, tissue engineering, etc. However, not all current uses of plastics are prudent and sustainable, as illustrated by the widespread, unwanted human exposure to endocrine-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) and di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), problems arising from the large quantities of plastic being disposed of, and depletion of non-renewable petroleum resources as a result of the ever-increasing mass production of plastic consumer articles. Using the health-care sector as example, this review concentrates on the benefits and downsides of plastics and identifies opportunities to change the composition and disposal practices of these invaluable polymers for a more sustainable future consumption. It highlights ongoing efforts to phase out DEHP and BPA in the health-care and food industry and discusses biodegradable options for plastic packaging, opportunities for reducing plastic medical waste, and recycling in medical facilities in the quest to reap a maximum of benefits from polymers without compromising human health or the environment in the process.


Corresponding author: Rolf U. Halden, Center for Environmental Security, Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-5904, USA, Phone: +1-480-727-0893, Fax: +1-480-965-6603

Received: 2012-9-20
Accepted: 2012-11-6
Published Online: 2013-01-22
Published in Print: 2013-04-01

©2013 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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