Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action examines health impact of plastics

Jul 25, 2023


PARKERSBURG — Using less plastic is better for the envvironment and people’s health, according to a retired research chemist speaking at the July 20 meeting of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.

Randi Pokladnik, a retired research chemist who also has a doctorate in environmental studies, spoke as part of Climate Action’s Break Free From Plastic – Plastic-Free July campaign. Pokladnik’s talk included a description of the life cycle of plastic, starting with fracking for oil and natural gas and ending as trash, generating heat-trapping gases at every stage of the life cycle.

In Pokladnik’s view, using less plastic would lead to a healthier environment for humans.

She spoke about toxic additives to the “basic cookie recipe” for plastic used to create the properties of hardness, flexibility and moisture resistance in the end product. Bisphenol A and phthalates are found in can liners and artificial fragrances and may cause endocrine disruptions or cancer, Pokladnik said.

Persistent organic pollutants found in pesticides and flame retardants may cause neurological damage, the known carcinogens styrene and benzene are present in many food containers and the single-use disposable plastics discarded into the environment and exposed to sunlight degrade into methane and ethane that is released into the atmosphere, she said.

“In some situations, using plastic is the right choice,” Pokladnik said.

However, even in those circumstances, getting plastic recycled is a problem, according to Pokladnik. According to Earthday.org, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled (15% is collected for recycling but 40% of that is disposed of as residues). Pokladnik says we will never be able to recycle our way out of plastic pollution. Even “advanced” recycling ideas like pyrolysis or chemical recycling are not proven to be sustainable, since the processes consume more energy than they produce, the release from Climate Action said.

Instead, Podladnik recommends “turning off the faucet” by stopping production of plastics intended for single use.

“We’re addicted to convenience,” she said. “Some of us remember a world without those convenience plastics, and we got along just fine.”

Alternatives to single-use disposables like plastic water bottles, shopping bags, cups, straws, cutlery, take-away containers and food storage bags and wraps would be easy items for consumers to find, she said. Studies show that 40% of the plastics market could be eliminated today by getting rid of single-use, disposable plastics, Climate Action said.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, writer and researcher Callie Lyons will present “Plastics, PFAS, and You: Forever Chemicals in the MOV” in the social hall of the First Unitarian Univeralist Society of Marietta, 232 Third St., Marietta. The presentation also will be offered over Zoom, registration required. Register by email to “mailto:adesign4199@gmail.com”>adesign4199@gmail.com, with “Callie Lyons 7-27-23″ in the subject line and the Zoom link will be emailed.