Plastics and health

Plastics have emerged as an indispensable part of health care: They are lightweight, durable, and can be made sterile. But they can also cause significant harm to human health, the economy, and the earth's environment. This is embedded in their entire lifecycle, from the hazards posed by the extraction and refining of petrochemicals to the materials and chemicals used to make plastics, and disposal, where plastics can emit chemicals of concern if burned or disposed improperly or break down into microplastics.

In the health care sector, rapid growth in plastic use is primarily driven by the demand for single-use medical devices. They are present in products ranging from syringes, surgery gowns, and gloves to the packaging used to wrap food. Hazardous chemicals in plastics not only threaten the environment but can also threaten patient safety. For example, PVC, a plastic polymer, requires many additives to give it properties like flexibility. Plasticizers used in medical devices can be as much as 40% by weight of a PVC product, and it was demonstrated that they can leach from medical devices and result in direct patient exposure.


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Working with health care professionals

As trusted voices in society, health care professionals play a pivotal role to raise community and institutional awareness on the impacts of plastic pollution. By making decisions and advocating for reduced plastic production and consumption, proper waste management, and the promotion of sustainable alternatives, health professionals can help mitigate the health risks associated with plastics. Their advocacy can drive policy changes, influence consumer behavior, and pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable future for individuals and communities worldwide.

Health Care Without Harm leads and co-leads different professional networks advocating for healthier systems and practices, and develops different campaigns, guidelines, and resources to support their work.