Plastics have transformed modern society, providing attractive benefits but also befouling waterways and aquifers, depleting petroleum supplies and disrupting human health.
Rolf Halden, a researcher at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute has been following the chemical trail of plastics, quantifying their impact on human health and the environment. In a new overview appearing in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, Halden and his co-author, ASU student Emily North, detail the risks and societal rewards of plastics and describe strategies to mitigate their negative impacts, through reconsideration of plastic composition, use and disposal.
"We are in need of a second plastic revolution. The first one brought us the age of plastics, changing human society and enabling the birth and explosive growth of many industries. But the materials used to make plastics weren't chosen judiciously and we see the adverse consequences in widespread environmental pollution and unnecessary human exposure to harmful substances. Smart plastics of the future will be equally versatile but also non-toxic, biodegradable and made from renewable energy sources," says Halden.
Plastics are made up of a network of molecular monomers linked to form macromolecules. These versatile chemical structures come in enormous varieties and today over 20 major forms of plastics exist. Plastics are typically lightweight and biocompatible. Along with their myriad uses in everyday life, plastics fulfill many needs in the public health arena, where they are found in items including absorbable sutures, prosthetics and engineered tissues.
Further, plastics may be manufactured at low cost using little energy and their adaptable composition allows them to be synthesized in soft, transparent or flexible forms suitable for a broad range of medical applications. Because they can be readily disposed of, items like latex gloves, dialysis tubes, i
|Contact: Joseph Caspermeyer|
Arizona State University