Experts warn of another kind of pandemic

SM NAJMUS SAKIB | Sunday, 11 April 2021

Global experts have warned of another pandemic waiting to happen with diseases borne out of toxic chemicals present in most food packaging and single-use plastics.

While single-use plastics (SUPs) are being marketed as the safer option, The Unwrapped Project is exposing that there are over 4,000 chemicals present in plastic packaging and many are known to be hazardous to human health.

In test samples from 19 locations world-wide, 93 per cent of the bottled water samples contained micro-plastics with an average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter.

Experts at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific, together with #breakfreefromplastic, Greeners Actions (Hong Kong), Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia, and UPSTREAM made the warn call at a global virtual event on Wednesday.

Unknown to many, micro-plastic can translocate across the gut and enter the circulatory system, accumulate in the major organs, and travel through the lymph system ending up in the liver and spleen.

When inhaled, micro-plastics, depending on size and shape, can travel through the respiratory system, become lodged in the lungs, and possibly translocate to other parts of the body, they said.

"The dramatic rise in the use of single-use plastics in food service during the pandemic has been fuelled by a false industry narrative that SUPs prevent virus transmission," said Miriam Gordon, UPSTREAM Policy Director.

She added, "Covid-19 research demonstrates the virus is transmitted from aerosolized droplets not by touching contaminated surfaces and the idea that plastic packaging makes us safer lacks any scientific basis."

"During the pandemic, we encourage people to bring their own food boxes when ordering takeaways. The risks of contracting the virus come from respiratory contact. Using SUPs does not mean you are better protected from the virus," said Michelle Chung, Senior Project Officer and lead of the ST0P campaign at Greeners Action in Hong Kong.

"With our ST0P campaign, we educate consumers and business owners (restaurants and malls) alike that there are safer options to use other than SUPs that end up in landfills."

The healthcare sector is another sector that has seen an increase in single-use plastics use during the pandemic.

"While there are essential single-use plastics such as IV lines and syringes being utilised in the health care sector, there are also a number of non-essential ones like disposable utensils that the sector can start transitioning away from," said Paeng Lopez, Plastics in Healthcare Project Officer and Sustainable Health in Procurement Project Philippine Coordinator at HCHW-SEA.

What we want is to find safer and sustainable materials, design, management or alternatives for essential plastics and a complete phase out of non-essential plastics in health care, Paeng Lopez continued.

"That said, and pursuant to our objective of a healthy recovery, we are encouraging the healthcare sector to begin saying no to non-essential plastics now," Lopez added.

"The good news is that there are alternatives," said MikoAlino, GAIA Asia Pacific Program Manager.

"There are businesses offering SUP-free packaging all over Asia Pacific and the world. Some say those are niche businesses, but they are not. We used to bring reusables when we bought food, our parents used to bring traditional native baskets to markets. Sachets were unheard of until just a few decades ago," MikoAlino added.

According to The Unwrapped Project, over 4,000 chemicals can be present in plastic packaging and of those, 906 have been identified as likely to be present in plastic packaging with 68 chemicals particularly hazardous for the environment and 63 to human health.

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