Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has a “strong message” to share about how best to combat the proliferation of microplastics when the US Senate reconvenes on Sept. 5, reports 24-hour Connecticut news channel, News12. The solution, he says, is to ban single-use plastics.
"I'm urging the federal government to phase out the use of all single-use plastics, whether it's straws, plastic bags, clothing, which has a lot of plastic, because it disintegrates and causes these tiny particles to accumulate in our water, ground, and our bodies, causing cancer, thyroid disease, and other real health problems,” says Blumenthal.
Taking commonsense precautions to protect humans, animals, and the environment should be something that politicians on all sides can rally around, he adds.
Personally, a red flag goes up whenever I see the word commonsense. It’s often a genteel way to frame alternate opinions as being somehow on the more-extreme side of a debate.
So, yes, banning all single-use plastics certainly is one way to reduce the proliferation of microplastics since you are eliminating the source. Banning all cars would eliminate traffic casualties. Banning fast food and sugary sodas would go a long way toward combatting obesity. I could go on all day, but you get the point. There’s that, plus phasing out single-use plastics in the federal government isn’t even a drop in the bucket when it comes to ridding the environment of microplastics.
Incidentally, I’m a bit baffled by the single-use clothing that Sen. Blumenthal mentions. I don’t think the government is outfitting workers in H&M garb — arguably single-use apparel. Perhaps he’s referencing gowns and personal protective equipment in medical facilities? I don’t know if that’s a commonsense proposal, since they actually prevent disease transmission because they are disposed of rather than washed more or less carefully before re-use.
Which brings me to the linkage of microplastics with health concerns. It’s a very popular trope, but there is no evidence that microplastics have adverse health effects on humans. There is plenty of speculation, and it’s true that some additives used to functionalize plastics may be harmful to human health, but, as the World Health Organization has noted, “the limited data provide little evidence that nano- and microplastic particles have adverse effects in humans.” That is not to say that we should be indifferent to the accumulation of microplastics in our bodies — of course not — but is banning single-use plastics in the government a “commonsense” approach to achieving that goal?
Rather than phasing out all single-use plastics from the federal government, which accomplishes nothing in the grand scheme of things, how about investing in the nation’s recycling infrastructure, supporting advanced recycling technologies, encouraging the use of recycled materials in new products, and moving us ever closer to a circular economy? That makes more sense to me.