Effects of Plastics


Plastics are made up of polymers that are derived from petroleum products and it becomes versatile product because of their significant properties and applications. The varied types of plastics exist in different objects such as polyethylene terephthalate in plastic bottles, polyvinyl chloride in toys, polythene in plastic bags, and other products. It was initially considered a non-toxic and inert material, however, the number of uses of plastics make harmful effects. Therefore, plastic products provide a serious environmental burden to society. Wind and water can cause the plastics to transfer from one place to a different place and make plastic pollution.

Types of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is assessed based on the types of plastics such as microplastics and macroplastics due to their size.

  • Microplastics are plastics less than 5 mm in size. It consists of plastic pieces, fibres, flakes, and pre-production pellets and they begin as macroplastics, when it degrades then it breaks into small fragments.

    Therefore, the microplastics are further categorized into primary microplastics which are plastics produced based on sizes such as microbeads, nurdles, and more and secondary plastics are developed as a result of the deterioration of macroplastics that includes fibres, paint flakes, and more. Microbeads are tiny particles that are made up of polyethene plastics and these are added as exfoliates to beauty and health products including cleansers and toothpaste.

  • Macroplastics are visible plastics larger than 5 mm in size. These are the first contributors to plastic pollution in rivers. Plastic grocery bags are a common example of macroplastics. The macro debris is broken down into micro debris by several processes such as photodegradation, hydrolysis, and physical degradation.

Causes of plastic pollution

  • The global production of plastics is high and people are increasingly dependent on plastic products because plastic is the cheapest and more affordable material to manufacture.

  • The success rate is based on some qualities such as low cost, resistance to corrosion, ease of shaping, easily disposable, and durability, therefore, plastic is available everywhere as an ideal material for packaging.

  • Plastic pollution mainly arises from household wastes, which are dumped in landfills, poor recycling, etc.

  • These wastes are pushed into streams, rivers, and oceans and natural disasters including flood is additionally a major cause of plastic pollution.

  • The decomposition rate of plastics is slow due to their strong chemical bonds, therefore, it takes even many years to degrade.

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Effects of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution can develop harmful effects on the rivers and land that affect wildlife, habitat, and health of humans. Some of the primary long-term effects of plastic pollution are as follows −

Effect on environment

  • Plastics are considered chemical pollution and they consist of chemical compounds which are transferred to living organisms by ingestion. The molecules in the plastics are highly toxic and are settled in the body which develops several side effects.

  • Plastic bags make an impact on the growth of crops because it hinders the process of photosynthesis in agricultural lands.

  • The release of poisonous chemicals from the burning of plastics in the air leads to air pollution in the environment and it affects human health by causing respiratory problems.

  • The vehicle tires are made up of plastic compositions that break into small components during the ride and spread in the surrounding area.

Effect on animals

  • The incarceration of animals in nets or other large shellers is a direct cause of plastic pollution that significantly raises the mortality of birds and marine species because they become entangled in plastic bags and rings that cause severe wounds and loss of life.

  • The ingestion of microplastics becomes harmful to invertebrates such as worms and it blocks the digestive system of an animal which results in various problems in their activities by infection, loss of nutrition, and development.

Effect on oceans

  • The consumption of plastic products indirectly concerns the entire food chain in the marine ecosystem, because there are thousands of sea turtles and seabirds that are endangered after ingesting the plastics.

  • Seabirds have a high risk of death when they intake even 14 pieces of plastics.

  • Plastic wastes can trigger the growth of pathogens in the ocean.

Effect on humans

  • Bisphenol A, polybrominated diphenyl, and phthalates is an industrial component used to make plastics, therefore, it is directly in contact with food that is consumed by humans, is metabolized in the liver, and releases the chemical, it remains in the body that makes dangerous effects to the human.

  • Plastics are predominantly used in food packaging, cosmetics, water bottles, perfumes, and medical devices that are highly toxic to humans because it kills the endocrine system of the body.


Plastics are cheap, versatile materials that are made up of polymers. Toys, tires for vehicles, food packaging, animal shelters, nets, bottles, and beauty products, consists of plastics. It can be categorized into microplastics size of less than 5mm and macroplastics size of greater than 5 mm. Plastic pollution arises from household wastes, poor recycling, and accumulation in rivers, streams, and oceans. Therefore, it decreases the value of land and oceans. The decomposition of plastic products takes more time and is expensive. It affects animals, the health of humans, land, and water, and plastic debris drastically affects marine environments, and several marine species including seahorses and sea birds lose their life.


Q1. What are the most dangerous types of plastics contaminating the oceans?

Ans. Plastic bottles and lids, polystyrene containers and products, disposable plastic cups, plates, bowls, and fruits and vegetables plastic bags are the most dangerous plastics that pollute the oceans.

Q2. How does plastic affect animals?

Ans. Animals have consumed plastic and waste because it looks similar to their prey. It can block the digestive tract and the incarceration of animals in nets or other large shellers is a direct cause of plastic pollution that significantly raises the mortality of birds and marine species.

Q3. Why is the disposal of plastic waste a major problem?

Ans. Plastics are non-biodegradable and they cannot decompose easily. The burning of plastics in the environment liberates harmful gases and it pollutes the air. Therefore, the disposal of plastic is a major problem.

Q4. What are microplastics and macroplastics?

Ans. Microplastics are small plastic particles that come from the breakdown of the larger plastics and their size is less than 5 mm. Macroplastics are visible plastics of size greater than 5 mm and are the first contributor to plastic pollution in rivers.

Q5. What are the properties of plastics?


  • Plastics are lightweight components and have strong chemical bonds.

  • They are formed into various shapes and sizes.

  • They have good durability and resistance to erosion.

  • They are good insulators and have low thermal conductivity.

Q6. How can we control plastic pollution?


  • Recycling gives a positive impact on the earth and it includes recycling cans, bottles, and cardboard.

  • Avoidance of single-use plastics such as plastic cutleries, straws, cups, sanitary products, and cotton buds.

  • Using alternative packaging instead of using plastics.

Updated on: 07-Dec-2022


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