Plastic Myths Debunked: Rethinking Negative Misconceptions

Despite the undeniable impact that plastics have contributed to our society, our economy and numerous aspects of our daily lives, negative perceptions continue to circulate on the subject of plastic in relation to health and environmental hazards. However, evidence has yet to be linking plastic to human health problems. Companies like Microdyne Plastics, Inc. and leaders within the plastics industry have taken action to focus on solutions to the environmental issues surrounding the polymer.

One important step to making these changes is to educate the public sphere on the subject of plastics within the environment and in the realm of human health.

Here are six common myths on the subject of plastics and the facts that clarify them, backed by scientific research.

Myth 1: Plastic food containers and plastic food wrap is dangerous to use in microwaves or freezers.

Fact: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews all products that come into contact with food prior to entering the consumer market. The FDA has stated that “All of the regulated chemicals used to make plastics for food contact, including DEHA, have been reviewed by FDA and have been found safe for their intended use.” Read all labels on your plastic containers to make sure you are using microwave and freezer safe plastics.

Myth 2: “Dioxins are potentially harmful compounds found in plastic food containers and films. Heating plastic containers in the microwave or placing them in the freezer releases dioxides into foods.”

Fact: Most plastics used for food packaging do not contain dioxins producing chemicals. The FDA has stated that “We have seen no evidence that plastic containers or films contain dioxins.” Additionally, dioxins can only be produced extremely high temperatures which are much higher than microwave temperatures.   The belief that freezing plastic water bottles can contaminate the water inside the container with dioxins is also a myth. In response to recent rumors warning of dioxides in frozen water bottles Dr. Rolf Halden of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health stated “Freezing actually works against the release of chemicals.”

Myth 3: Beverage binders, the plastic rings that hold together six pack beverage containers, are hazardous to wildlife.

Fact: Federal law has mandated that beverage binders be 100 percent photodegradable. Since 1989, beverage binders have been manufactured to begin disintegrating in sunlight after only a few days of exposure.

Myth 4: Plastic never biodegrades.

Fact: While your average household petroleum-based plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET), don’t decompose in the same way that organic materials do, new scientific discoveries suggest that plastics do in fact biodegrade. For example, research conducted by 16 year old  Daniel Burd, a high school student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, found that certain kinds of microorganisms can break down plastic. And that’s not the only method scientists have discovered.  The most promising answer may be sunlight. Through a process called photodegradation, UV rays from the sun break down plastic overtime.
Myth 5: The plastic waste floating in the ocean will never break down.

Fact: In their 2009 study, researchers from Nihon University in Chiba, Japan found that plastics left in warm ocean water break down in as little as one year.
Myth 6: The mass of plastic waste floating in the ocean is twice the size of Texas and growing.

Fact:  A recent statement released by researcher Angel White of Oregon State University claims that the estimated size of the mass is actually “a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size.” Of course, this does not eliminate the fact that measures need to be taken to clean up the debris, but it does prove that there are exaggerated misnomers circulating that involve the environmental problems associated with plastic waste. Additionally, the belief that the mass is growing has also been disproven. Data collected from a study on the oceanic debris found that the mass “has not increased during the entire 22 year period of the study.”

These are just a few of the many myths surrounding plastic in recent decades. While it is true that there is a large amount of debris that has been generated from products manufactured from plastic since its invention, too few individuals are aware that innovation, technology and invention are key factors in the future reduction and even elimination of plastic waste in the future. You can learn more about ways that the plastics industry is working towards reduction in environmental impact by continuing to read more of our blog posts.

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