Plastic bottles are hazardous to human health at all stages of their life cycle.


In 1973, DuPont engineer Nathaniel Wyeth patented PET plastic bottles as a new and durable alternative to glass. since then Production has soared to more than half a trillion bottles per year. This is driven by beverage companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé.

It’s no secret that most PET bottles, named after the polyethylene terephthalate plastic they are made from, are not recycled. Many ended up on the beach or in the waterways. They decompose into unsightly plastic and debris that threaten marine life. But destroyed beaches are just the tip of the iceberg. According to a new report from the charity Defend Our Health, PET bottles cause dangerous chemical pollution at all stages of their life cycle.

Mike Belliveau, executive director of Defend Our Health, said: “Plastics place a huge health burden on people. He called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place stricter restrictions on the use of toxic chemicals. and called on beverage companies like Coca-Cola Chosen as the number one plastic polluter for five years by the Break Free From Plastic coalition — to replace at least half of plastic bottles with reusable and refillable container systems by 2030.

“The beverage industry has to be held accountable and accountable for the impact of their plastic supply chains,” Belliveau said.

This report begins at the end of the plastic life cycle. Discarded PET plastic bottles emit carcinogens and heavy metals into the environment. While industry trade groups like to advertise PET as “100 percent recyclable,” the truth is that 70 percent of bottles are never collected for recycling, instead end up being dumped, sent to landfills or incinerated, contributing to environmental pollution. The climate disproportionately affects low-income and black communities. Of the remaining 30 percent, Defend Our Health estimates that only one-third are converted to new bottles. The remainder is wasted during the recycling process, or “downcycled,” into low-quality plastic products such as carpet.

With the amount of plastic waste worldwide expected to triple by 2017, experts say the recycling infrastructure is unlikely to catch up. Recent research also shows that recycling processes may incorporate toxic chemicals into recycled toys, kitchenware and other products. accidentally which may put consumers at risk

Chemical emissions also occur further in the PET bottle supply chain when bottles are on shelves. Independent tests show that virtually any plastic bottle will leach chemicals into the drink in which it is held. These chemicals include antimony from antimony trioxide. A 2022 analysis from Defend Our Health found antimony concentrations in Diet Coke, Honest Tea, Dasani and other Coca-Cola products in excess of standards. California’s Safe Drinking Water

In response to Grist’s request for comment, Coca-Cola said all of its products are safe and have been approved by all regulators where it operates. “Consumers can rest assured that our products are safe and of high quality,” the spokesperson said.

The remainder of the report focuses on feedstock. which is the chemical structure of PET. For example, the production of monoethylene glycol Ethylene oxide, one of the main ingredients in PET, causes about 68,000 pounds of ethylene oxide to be released into the air every year. It is the country’s leading source of pollution from 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen. Processing and refining of oil and gas to create other plastic feedstocks such as chemicals such as ethylene and para xylene can emit dust volatile organic compounds that cause smog and aromatic hydrocarbons Oil and gas extraction releases more than 1,000 chemicals, some of which may have unrecognized health effects.

Plastic plant with leaves in the foreground
Formosa Plastics plant in Point Comfort, Texas.
Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images

Roopa Kritthivasan, director of research at Defend Our Health and co-author of the report, said: “We are trying to use a lot of these chemicals without understanding how they impact human health,” she said, adding that the burden of chemical pollution is heaviest in marginalized communities. This includes poor and black people living near fossil fuel extraction sites. plants that produce PET or chemical compounds, and incinerators. According to Defend Our Health, blacks account for nearly two-thirds of those at risk of serious cancer from living within a 6-mile radius of ethylene emissions. oxides from petrochemical plants

“Our future is in the crosshairs,” Yvette Arellano, executive director of environmental justice organization Fenceline Watch in Houston, told reporters Monday at a press conference for the report. “As a woman of color in the far-right southern state captured by oil interests, We were disqualified and disproportionately affected. Many people, including myself, have been diagnosed with infertility. Babies are affected in the womb even before exhalation. And even after that, they may be diagnosed with developmental problems. neurological problems and immune problems.”

Belliveau said the EPA did a good job of identifying these differences. But it’s a “terrible” task to edit. He said the agency should do more to regulate chemicals related to plastics, such as implementing federal limits for 1,4-dioxane in drinking water Enacting more stringent standards for ethylene oxide pollution. And by setting strict pollution standards for other plastics and related chemicals, companies can help too. By voluntarily replacing harmful chemical additives with safer alternatives.

The EPA did not respond to Grist’s request for comment in time for release.

More broadly, however, Belliveau would like to see producing less plastic bottles in the first place. States like California are starting to push companies. In this direction, it requires some single-use plastics to be eliminated and replaced with reusable systems such as soda fountains and bottle filling stations. But the green group says the private sector must step up as well. Defend Our Health requires soda makers like Coca-Cola to sell at least half of their beverages in reusable or refillable packaging by 2030, which is a The ambitious goal is twice Coca-Cola’s current goal.

in fact Coke appears to be turning its back on its commitment to reuse: in its latest sustainability report, The company said refillable packaging accounted for just 14 percent of its products sold in 2022, down from 16 percent a year earlier. According to Coca-Cola Oceana’s reported sales volume, the nonprofit estimates that the decline means the company produced 5.8 billion more single-use bottles over the past two years. Replaces reusable packaging.

Coca-Cola “has a history of not meeting its promises,” Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s senior vice president of strategic initiatives, told Grist. How important is it to achieve and exceed existing goals? “It’s not just for the health of the oceans. but also for all our health.”

Coca-Cola did not respond to Grist’s request for comment on reuse goals.

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