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Reviews on Environmental Health

Editor-in-Chief: Carpenter, David O. / Sly, Peter

Editorial Board Member: Brugge, Doug / Diaz-Barriga, Fernando / Edwards, John W. / Field, R.William / Hales, Simon / Horowitz, Michal / Maibach, H.I. / Shaw, Susan / Stein, Renato / Tao, Shu / Tchounwou, Paul B.

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Volume 28, Issue 1 (Apr 2013)


Plastics and environmental health: the road ahead

Emily J. North
  • Center for Environmental Security, Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
  • Department of Chemical Engineering, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
/ Rolf U. Halden
  • Corresponding author
  • Center for Environmental Security, Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
  • Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2013-01-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2012-0030


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.

Keywords: health effects; plastics; pollution; sustainability; sustainable consumption

About the article

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: 2012-09-20

Accepted: 2012-11-06

Published Online: 2013-01-22

Published in Print: 2013-04-01

Citation Information: Reviews on Environmental Health, ISSN (Online) 2191-0308, ISSN (Print) 0048-7554, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2012-0030. Export Citation

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