Plastic Provides Ride for Dangerous Viruses

Plastic Provides Ride for Dangerous Viruses

Here’s another reason to systemically quit plastics: new research shows that dangerous viruses can hitch a ride on microplastic for days. Viruses are known to attach themselves to natural surfaces, but microplastic doesn’t break down and lasts a lot longer than organic material.

"Being infectious in the environment for three days, that’s long enough to get from the wastewater treatment works to the public beach,” Professor Richard Quilliam, lead researcher on the project at Stirling University, told the Guardian.

Our Changing Climate: Why Plastic Pollution is Even Worse Than You Think, April 23, 2021.

Why This Matters

According to scientists, microplastics are everywhere, including in some human organs such as the lungs, spleen, kidneys, and even the placenta. There is an expanding body of evidence that plastics pose health risks and the many ways they do so. In addition to providing vehicles for hitchhiking viruses, plastics can disrupt immune systems, increase cancer risks, and harm organs. And the water that pools in plastic pollution provides breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Plastics are also a climate hazard. The Beyond Plastics organization calls them "The New Coal" for their many toxic qualities. By the end of the decade, the US plastic industry is projected to contribute more to climate change than coal-fired power plants in this country, according to a recent Beyond Plastics report.

The Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Plastic, April 21, 2021.

Oceana: Amazon's enormous and rapidly growing plastic pollution problem, December 21, 2021.

International Plastics Promises

Earlier this year, the United Nations unanimously voted to develop a treaty ending plastic pollution, which is heralded as the most important multilateral environmental deal since the Paris Agreement seven years ago. While agreeing to develop the treaty isn’t the same as having one finalized and in place -- there will certainly be negotiations and disagreements in between -- there isn’t anything binding at the moment. It’s certainly a step toward international collaboration on the problem, which is especially important given that the Western world (including the US) is already violating international conventions, shipping its plastic waste to other countries like Malaysia and Vietnam.

UNEP: Global Plastic Pollution Agreement | A historic moment, March 2, 2022.

PBS: How the Plastics Industry Used Recycling to Fend Off Bans, March 31, 2021.

TRT World Now: 20 companies responsible for most single-use plastic waste, May 18, 2021.