PLASTICIZER: Women, the first victims of plastic pollution

In December 2020, the Endocrine Society published its report "Plastics, Health and Endocrine Disruptors" which revealed a shocking truth: 144 chemicals from plastic were found in the bodies of people surveyed. Cancer, diabetes, infertility, all these substances have a direct impact on our health. And if this affects the whole population, women are the biggest victims...

The Plastisphere invites itself in our organism  

It is everywhere around us, from the cars we drive to the clothes we wear: plastic is an integral part of our lives, even inviting itself into our bodies. During its production, many potentially dangerous chemicals are used, including endocrine disruptors (EDs). They will be used as components, additives, or provide certain properties such as color or flexibility. In these products of our daily consumption, we find Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which affect, among other things, our reproductive capacity.  

  • Women and men are not equal in front of these products  

The female metabolism is more sensitive than men’s. How ? The higher levels of estrogen in women, the greater volume of fat that will store the toxins, but also the rate of these toxins more sensitive and important during puberty, pregnancy, lactation and menopause.    

  • An inequality that impacts future generations  

  If endocrine disruptors have a major impact on our health, they do not spare the fetus during pregnancy either. These substances can interfere with the hormonal system during all phases of intrauterine development, and can cause illnesses or malformations in newborns.  

  • Nevertheless, women are more exposed to plastics than men  

  And this starts with feminine hygiene products, which may contain bisphenol A (BPA) or bisphenol S (BPS). Tampons (composed of 6% plastic) or pads (90%) can be used an average of 11,000 times during a woman’s life. That is 11,000 times more likely to be contaminated by residues of hazardous substances. Nevertheless, alternatives exist, such as menstrual cups or washable pads and panties, which are increasingly developed on the market.   

Beauty products also present risks. According to a study conducted by the independent rating institute Noteo, out of 15,000 beauty-hygiene products studied, 40% contained at least one endocrine disruptor. They can contain up to 100 chemicals, including microplastics.   

A health AND social injustice, generated by gendered roles  

Still too present in our societies, gender roles expose women more to toxic substances.   

  • The place of women in the domestic sphere     

In developing countries, women are still often in charge of household maintenance, both inside and outside the home, leading to the massive use of household products that contain hazardous substances such as microplastics or surfactants. According to a UN survey, women take on at least two and a half times more household chores than men. A social inequality that would affect the health of women! Moreover, certain practices such as the elimination of household waste by open burning expose women to toxic fumes and heavy metals.   

  • An increased exposure in female professions  

These same products are also used in the medical and social fields, which are still largely assumed by women, but not only.   

Throughout the world, millions of waste pickers trample open-air dumps every day, where an accumulation of waste can sometimes reach 70 meters high. These “waste pickers” are mostly women and children. These poorest populations are looking for food, electronic products or recyclable plastics as a source of income. Accidents are numerous: handling of waste, collapses… more than two thirds of the victims of these tragedies are women.   

 It is important to consider that plastic pollution is not only an ecological disaster, but also a social injustice, which affects thousands of people every day. We are not all equal in front of plastic pollution. Alternatives, if they exist, are not systematically available to all.  

 It is time to take global and concrete measures so that all are protected against the risks conveyed by our consumption of plastic: that industries take into account the biological factors of women in the design and composition of their product, too ignored today despite the alerts of health institutes.