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Plastic pollution: how can the global health community fight the growing problem?
  1. Dieudonne Bidashimwa1,
  2. Theresa Hoke1,
  3. Thu Ba Huynh2,
  4. Nujpanit Narkpitaks2,
  5. Kharisma Priyonugroho2,
  6. Trinh Thai Ha3,
  7. Allison Burns4,
  8. Amy Weissman2
  1. 1Health Service Research, FHI 360, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2Asia Pacific Regional Office, FHI 360, Bangkok, Thailand
  3. 3Asia Pacific Regional Office, FHI 360, Hanoi, Vietnam
  4. 4Knowledge Exchange, FHI 360, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Dieudonne Bidashimwa; dbidashimwa{at}

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Summary box

  • Plastic pollution—unmanaged disposal of plastic waste in water and on land—is a growing global crisis affecting the environment and animals, and an expanding body of evidence suggests negative impacts on human health.

  • Plastic products and plastic waste threaten human health because of their toxicity, role in disease propagation, possible interference with food supply through their environmental effects and socioeconomic impacts.

  • Despite the burden caused by plastic pollution, the topic does not appear to be a priority on the agenda of the global public health community. International health organisations have not been vocal about plastic pollution as a health threat, and the issue is not frequently discussed in the global health scientific literature.

  • The global health community should urgently: (1) fill the evidence gap around plastic exposure and impact for human health to strengthen the current indirect and disjointed evidence; (2) join forces with environmentalists and animal health specialists to advocate for policies to influence plastic production, consumption and waste management; (3) advocate for the adoption of a circular economy model in healthcare to reduce plastic medical waste and (4) contribute to combatting plastic pollution through the use of their technical skills, the ‘public health toolbox’.


Plastic pollution is a global crisis of increasing scale and severity. From the extraction of raw materials for production to the ultimate disposal of massive waste, plastics impact negatively several environmental domains, animal health and potentially human health, with possible global health and social implications.1–3 These effects of plastics are poised to increase with the rate of pollution. The annual rate of mismanaged end-of-life plastic entering terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems will respectively reach 11 million tons and 18 million tons per year in 2040, more than double those of 2016.4 These threats are being recognised and challenged through global agreements spearheaded by the United Nations …

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