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Hey, what’s your problem? Plastic, obviously

#ConnectTheDots between plastic pollution and antibiotic resistance.
plastic bags floating in the ocean

Feeling lethargic? Finding it difficult to sleep? Feeling too hot and then too cold? Feeling a bit moody? It might just be the exposure to toxins. Over the past century, plastic has infiltrated our ecosystem so deeply that we find ourselves drinking, eating, breathing…pooping microplastics. Unfortunately, the effects of plastic pollution on us aren’t just limited to our exposure to microplastics. 

  1. Manufacturing toxins: Over 4% of the fossil fuels extracted is used to create plastic and a similar amount is used to fuel the process of making plastics. I’m not going to dive deep into what all that emission does to us. To make things easy, let’s just remember this – shit hits the roof. In the plastic making process, over 170 fracking chemicals are used to produce the main feedstocks or raw materials. What’s freaky about these fracking chemicals is that they give us bad vibes. Cancer, neurological, reproductive, and developmental toxicity, impairment of the immune system, and more bad vibes.
  2. What also matters is the kind of plastic we use and the kind of things we use it for. What?! Are we not aware of the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating over our oceans and causing sea turtles to die and then also accelerating ocean acidification and causing dead zones and basically screwing the whole marine ecosystem? It’s like when someone puts raisin in the cookie. You’ve destroyed the batter, you monster. 
  1. Okay, so what do we do with all the plastic that lasts over 900 years but we use for like a minute? The waste management system for plastic is flawed; whether you burn it, gas it or ash it, the result is release of toxic metals like lead and mercury, toxic substances like dioxins and furans etc. into our air, water, and soil. Sure, we could recycle plastic but that still doesn’t reduce our exposure to plastic. 

Clearly, plastic’s effect on us goes beyond just what happens when we dispose of it. But, let’s come back to what happens when we’re exposed to so much plastic.

Plastic gives chemicals a bad name

Increased exposure to plastic means increased exposure to bad chemicals. Bad chemicals that can potentially disrupt our endocrine system, the messengers of our body.

It also reduces male fertility and causes reproductive issues. Sure, existence is pain and suffering but we want our species to survive and for that we gots to be fertile, unlike our land. Okay, digressing. Coming back to plastic. It also causes damage to our nervous system. I mean all our systems are nervous already, can we really endure more damage here? And it also increases our risk for cancer. And even that doesn’t cover the entirety of potential risks. Damn. It’s a laundry list. But even our laundry detergent has microplastics so how can we possibly wash away all that plastic? We have so much trust in our wastewater treatment system. I mean, we do have one of the best wastewater treatment plants in the world in Bombay but even so, wastewater treatment isn’t designed to filter microplastics. I want to dive deeper into what that means for our well-being. 

Microplastics, microbes and my lack of cure

Microplastics may be teeny tiny to us but they make for quite a spacious home for microbes. Researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology have shown that microplastics can become hubs for various bacteria and pathogens to thrive in. Once they’re washed down our drains and enter the wastewater treatment plants, they actually start to accumulate and form a slimy layer on which all pathogenic microorganisms get to mingle, flirt and pair with antibiotic waste. When they mingle, they create antibiotic resistant bacteria. As other bacteria attach to the surface and start to grow, they swap DNA with each other like passing the ball of antibiotic resistance genes around. With this, communities are exposed to antibiotic resistant genes. More so in urban communities than in rural areas. Imagine these antibiotic resistant bacteria making its way to you through your tap water. Or maybe think about all the treated wastewater that is used to irrigate crops. Researchers found plastic in every sample, whether the rice was grown in Thailand, India, Pakistan or Australia and whether the rice was packaged in plastic or paper. One would think washing the rice would reduce the amount of plastic likely to be ingested but most households use tap water. Ladies and gentlemen, tap water contains microplastics. It makes sense to think that antibiotics presence around microplastics would be necessary to intensify antibiotic resistance genes in these microplastic-bacteria. So sure, let’s start separating the two into different treatment plants. But turns out, microplastics are quite well-versed with making shit worse without much intervention. They’re able to enhance the resistance genes without adding much antibiotics in the mix. The presence of antibiotics does have a significant multiplier effect though. 

Fine, I develop some level of antibiotic resistance. So what? By 2050, 10 million people could die each year from diseases that have grown resistant to drugs. Right now, 7 lakh people die of drug-resistant diseases each year. Common problems like STDs and urinary tract infections are also becoming resistant to treatment. Routine hospital procedures like C-sections may become more dangerous as well as the risk associated with infection may also increase.

We may think that “we’re far away from fossil fuel extraction sites, we don’t live close to the oceans, we don’t live close to a dumping ground so how would plastic even get to us? We’re safe.” But, it does, in ways that cause all biomedical breakthroughs to also become useless because how will we fight diseases if we’ve already built a resistance to the cure?

This Plastic Free July, we want you to #ConnectTheDots and make the switch to a plastic-free lifestyle. You can head over to theswitch

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