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Raising Awareness of Plastic Usage - REthink: Start The Change!

Toxic Chemicals

Plastic contains several poisonous chemicals which are dangerous for the environment as well as for human beings. You can differ between chemicals which were added to the plastic during the manufacturing process to create special characteristics and others which accumulate during the process of degradation.

Bisphenole A (BPA) & Phthalates

These two chemicals are concentrated in plastic from the very beginning.

Bisphenole A (BPA) is one of the basic materials that are used for the production of some sorts of plastics like PC and PVC. You can find BPA in plastic boxes, the internal coating of cans and pacifiers. But what are the effects on humans?

Here you have to differ between the impact on youngsters and adults.
In children it can lead to permanent mutations of the nervous system. BPA may also cause conduct disorders and a worsening learning ability. In men a reduced quantity or quality of sperm is a possible consequence. Conduct disorders can occur too. Additionally, BPA has an estrogenic effect.
BPA is seen an endocrine disruptor, for children as well as for grown-ups.
These effects are not scientifically proven because it would take long-term studies which have not yet been possible. However, it is proven that BPA is released by plastic boxes.
A little note that might be thought-provoking: after analyzing human blood scientists have measured higher dose of BPA in the human blood than in the blood of mice which have been exposed to this chemical product. The mice have already shown sexual dysfunctions.

Plastic is used in nearly all areas of life and therefore it needs to have special characteristics to fit in to the situation. To accomplish the required flexibility plastic is mixed with phthalates, also called plasticizers. These phthalates end up in our food via ultraviolet radiation. That is the reason why you should store PET bottles in a place save from light. In the beginning of PET-bottles you were able to taste the plasticizers in your beverage. So what did the companies do? They filled the bottles with soft drinks to cover the taste of the phthalates. They are suspected to have similar effects on humans as BPA but it is not proven either.

Polychlorinated Biphenyle (PCB) & Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)

The two following chemicals gather in plastic fragments floating in our oceans. As plastic breaks down into smaller pieces and therefore has a larger surface area, more of these dangerous chemicals can be absorbed. But what effects have these poisonous substances on our body?

The first substance is polychlorinated biphenyl, also named PCB. It is a synthetic chemical used in the manufacturing process of plastics. PCB is causing cancer in animals and it is suspected to be carcinogenic in humans too. High levels of PCB can cause skin conditions like chlorine acne, but also liver cancer is possible. In women it can result in irregular menstrual cycles and in men it can lead to infertility or a lower sperm quality. In children a high level of PCB has led to a lower cognitive ability and motor control problems.

The problem with polychlorinated biphenyles is that it is a lipophilic substance. Lipophilic means that it is dissolving in oils, greases and other lipophilic substances. That is why fish with a lot of fatty tissue like mackerel, salmon, halibut and carps are at a higher risk of accumulating those substances in their tissue.

The last chemical is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAH. As long as its name is as long it takes until this substance is degraded, PAH is very persistent. The designation “aromatic” does not mean that it is very tasty – it only refers to the chemical structure.

PAH is a carcinogenic and mutagenic substance. It also causes problems with the reproduction. As PAH is very light it can reach every place trough the wind in the atmosphere.

Across the board you can say that these two substances accumulate on water-repellent surfaces such as the one of plastics.

Author: Judith Seil

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Poster created by: Vanessa Krempl



REthink is a project of

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What WE do to use less plastics

"I won't take a plastic bag - no matter how stuffed my bag already is! The things I bought can always be transported anyhow." - Paula Schlosser, Team "Experiments"

"Avoiding plastics at everydays shopping trip is not as difficult as you think. I only buy yoghurt and milk filled in glass bottles, pasta only packaged in cardboard boxes." - Nicole Spielbauer, Team "Design"

"I prevent from buying coffee to go in a disposable coffee cup. I always take my own coffee mug with a lid with me. In addition I buy milk, yoghurt and cream in glass bottles only." - Kerstin Ludwig, Team "Website"

"I always buy fresh meat, never packed in plastic. I also take my textile bag with me all the time, for everything." - Vincent Baier, Team "Public Relations"

Information poster: Dangers

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