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Shocking new report reveals 'hidden hazards' of using plastic bottles: 'The beverage industry must detoxify its supply chain'

The report came out in late May as a collaboration between the nonprofit Defend Our Health and Bloomberg Philanthropies Beyond Petrochemicals campaign.

Hidden hazards of plastic bottles

Photo Credit: iStock

A recent report revealed that plastic bottles cause chemical pollution at every stage of their famously long lifespans — and this pollution has human health, environmental, and climate impacts.

What's happening?

The report, titled "Hidden Hazards: The Chemical Footprint of a Plastic Bottle," came out in late May as a collaboration between the nonprofit Defend Our Health and Bloomberg Philanthropies' Beyond Petrochemicals campaign.

The report's authors described how the 500 billion plastic bottles that the beverage industry uses annually (close to 1 million a minute) are responsible for releasing cancer-causing chemicals, water pollution, and planet-warming gases.

The writers leveled criticism at companies like Coca-Cola for failing to reduce impacts and also documented how the beverage sector disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities.

Why are the impacts of plastic bottles concerning?

The study emphasized how continuous and varied the hazards are.

First, there are the costs of extracting raw materials to bring bottles into existence. "Fracking and drilling for oil and gas results in serious air and water pollution," the report noted.

Then come the toxin-emitting processes that transform oil and gas into containers for fluids that humans ingest. The report mentioned ethylene oxide as a pollutant that increases the cancer risk of surrounding populations, many of which are economically disadvantaged.

Even during the useful part of bottles' lives — carrying liquid to consumers — they cause planet-warming pollution due to transportation. The report also spotlighted antimony, a carcinogen that leaches into drinks inside the bottles.

Plastic bottles release toxins whether they're recycled, sent to landfills, incinerated, or dumped

Although companies tout the promise of recycling, the report cited Environmental Protection Agency findings that less than 9% of plastics get recycled in the U.S.

Even when recycled, bottles release chemicals, microplastics, and heat-trapping gases. Meanwhile, bottles that don't get recycled break down in landfills, creating more gases or becoming part of the garbage truck's worth per minute of plastic flowing into oceans.

What's being done about plastic bottles?

The United Nations released a plan recently to reduce plastic pollution globally by 80% by 2040. Talks are underway to create binding international agreements by the end of 2024.

Consumers everywhere can save money and reduce demand for plastic bottles by using refillable containers and supporting alternative, biodegradable products.

Yet the report's authors also insist that governments regulate chemicals more forcefully and that everyone pressure companies to clean up their acts.

"From production to disposal, PET plastic pollutes our air, water, food, and recycling — all while worsening environmental racism and the climate crisis," Mike Belliveau, executive director of Defend Our Health, said in a release. "The beverage industry must detoxify its supply chain and wean itself off of fossil-fueled plastics."

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