Health & Environmental Effects of Burning Plastic Bags
There are so many plastic bags polluting our oceans and ending up in a landfill. So is it possible to just burn them and finally get rid of them? As with all plastics and other garbage, burning plastic bags is harmful to human health and the environment. Plastic should be recycled when possible and sent to the landfill if no recycling options are available.
Why is it harmful to burn plastics?
Plastic bags are a oil based product, which contains the chemical elements of hydrogen and carbon. When plastic bags burn, the composition of the bag mixed with the heat produces a highly toxic chemical called dioxin. Dioxins have been linked to cancer, can interfere with the endocrine gland system which produces hormones, and have been known to affect both the immune system and reproduction.
Burning any type of plastic releases toxic and potentially cancer-causing chemicals into the air, where they can be inhaled by humans and animals and deposited in soil and surface water and on plants. Residue from burning contaminates the soil and groundwater and can enter the human food chain through crops and livestock. If humans are near burn piles that contain plastic bags, they can easily ingest the toxic fumes directly into their systems.
Other chemicals released while burning plastics include benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and other polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have both been shown to cause cancer. If plastic film or containers are contaminated with pesticides or other harmful substances, those will also be released into the air. If plastics are burned with other materials, additional toxic chemicals may be created from the interaction of the different substances.
Unburned portions of the plastic become litter on the ground and in lakes and rivers. As it disintegrates, animals may eat the plastic and get sick. Larger pieces of plastic can become a breeding ground for diseases, such as by trapping water that provides habitat for mosquitoes.
If a manufacturer or retailer tells you to dispose of your plastics this way, please tell them it is illegal. You should always recycle or landfill your used plastics.