6 million health care workers call for stricter limits on global plastics

6 million health care workers call for stricter limits on global plastics | The Hill

A woman works in a facility while surrounded by a pill of plastic bottles.
Kazi Salahuddin Razu, NurPhoto via Getty Images

A woman works in a plastic bottle recycling factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 20, 2024.

Millions of health care workers around the globe are calling for world governments to put significant limits on the plastics industry.

Representatives of 900 health care civil society groups called for caps on the production of plastics, the restriction of toxic chemicals, and full transparency around what goes into plastics in an open letter Monday.

The letter went out to the national teams concluding the U.N. Environment Program’s fourth round of plastics negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, where delegates are divided over the question of whether plastic pollution can be reduced without cutting plastic production.

“Plastic poses an ongoing crisis for human and planetary health, which will inevitably worsen with the planned dramatic increase in plastics production, unless global action is taken,” according to the open letter from Health Care Without Harm.

Six million health care workers around the world signed the letter, which warns that plastics pose grave threats to human health both through direct poisoning and — because of the industry’s dependence on fossil fuels — through their role in heating the climate.

“There are health impacts at each stage of the plastics life cycle,” the writers note. 

“Plastics used in health care require thousands of hazardous additives (including carcinogens, neurotoxicants, endocrine disruptors) that can leach from products and waste, and persist in the environment, threatening patients, communities, workers (including waste workers), and ecosystems.”

They argue that these impacts are of particular concern to “vulnerable patients” including children, fetuses and newborns — and that they add significant costs to the global health care system.

They also argue that many of these dangers are made worse because they are hidden, writing that “the lack of full product ingredient information impedes efforts to reuse, recycle, and to move to safer alternatives.”

The letter is significant because medical plastics are a key domain that industry advocates point to when they argue against caps on production.

An anonymous campaign called “These Plastics” seeks to fight the idea of such caps by making the case that plastics are “vital” for preserving human health.

“Plastics have made healthcare safer and more accessible,” according to the website. “By reducing spoilage and preserving nutritional value, plastics also contribute to supporting food security, maintaining human health and well-being.”

The industry campaign also argues that despite their reliance on fossil fuels, plastics are in fact friendlier for the climate than alternative materials, because they are lighter and therefore require less fuel for transport.

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