Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet (February 2019)

Despite being one of the most pervasive materials on the planet, plastic and its impact on human health is poorly understood. Human exposure to it grows with increasing plastic production and use. Research into the human health impacts of plastic to date have focused narrowly on specific moments in the plastic lifecycle, from wellhead to refinery, from store shelves to human bodies, and from disposal to ongoing impacts as air pollutants and ocean plastic. Individually, each stage of the plastic lifecycle poses significant risks to human health. Together, the lifecycle impacts of plastic paint an unequivocally toxic picture: plastic threatens human health on a global scale.

Click here to read Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet (Also available in Mandarin / 也提供普通話)

Click here for the Executive Summary.

Table of contents:

Executive Summary

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Extraction and Transport

Health Impacts

Air Pollution


Frontline Community Impacts

Mental Health and Human Rights

Risks to Children, Infants, and Pregnant Women



Chapter 3: Refining and Manufacture

Human Health Impacts of Chemicals involved in Plastic Production

Hazardous Air Pollutants

Chemical Clusters and Risk of Accidents

Community Engagement and Access to Information

External Factors: Extreme Weather Events

Threats to Workers in the Plastic Industry

Chapter 4: Consumer Use

Plastic Particles, Plasticizers, and Other Chemical Additives

Plasticizers Used in Plastic and Other Consumer Products

Potential Threats Associated with Accumulated Pollutants on Plastic Particles

Food Packaging Chemicals

Human Body Burden

Routes of Human Exposure to Microplastic Particles

Drinking Water as a Source of Human Exposure to Microplastics

Toxicity of Microplastic Particles to Cells and Tissues

Uptake and Translocation Across the Gut

Chapter 5: Plastic Waste Management


Waste Incineration Industry Targets Asian Markets for Growth

Environmental Health Impact of Waste Incineration

Toxic Emissions from Burning Plastic

Toxic Byproducts Of Incineration On Land And Water


Low Feasibility and Recent Trend of Failures

Environmental Health Impact

Other Routes and Unknowns

Chemical Recycling

Waste-Based Road and Building Materials

Chapter 6: Plastic in the Environment

Ingesting Plastic

Fish and Shellfish



Other Food and Drink

Microplastics in the Food Chain

Impact on Human Health

Microplastics and Toxic Chemicals

Microplastics and the Potential for Disease

Ingesting Microplastics

Inhaling Microplastic

Toxicity of Inhaled Plastic Particles

Plastic in Agricultural Soils

Chapter 7: Conclusions and Recommendations

Known Knowns

Known Unknowns