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Plastic: Our Toxic Addiction

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Date and time
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
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The old adage about the free lunch fits plastic perfectly – there there is no such thing. Yes, at first it was shiny, bright and inexpensive and seemed like it could be used for almost anything – until we got the price tag. And now it might be too late to fix it. 100 years down the road the world is discovering the myriad unintended consequences of plastic which far outweigh its cheap convenience. Almost daily, scientific research brings us fresh horrors about plastic; it is no longer just turtles or whales choking on the stuff, now it has invaded us. Microplastics are in our blood, human breastmilk and even our brains. Little did we know that when we put plastic into medical devices and food packaging, it would leach into those syringes and water bottles causing dangerous health consequences intrinsically and extrinsically. Only 5% of plastic can be recycled so that means 95% is being dumped into our oceans, landfills and bodies at an unremitting pace. What can be done to break our toxic addiction to plastic, and to terminate its lethal global legacy? To help us understand the scale of the problem and see what steps California and other countries are already taking with the Global Plastics Treaty – **Cambridge Forum** speaks to Dr. Roberto Lucchini, who edited the special edition of "Global Health" on the findings of the Minderoo Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health, John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaign Director and Veronique Greenwood, a science journalist and essayist who frequently contributes to the New York Times, the BBC, and National Geographic. ### Resources [Plastic actually isn't cheap - Veronique Greenwood - Boston Globe](Plastic actually isn’t cheap - Veronique Greenwood - Boston Globe https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/05/11/opinion/plastic-isnt-actually-cheap/) [Link to the report of Minderoo-Monaco Commission](https://annalsofglobalhealth.org/collections/the-minderoo-monaco-commission-on-plastics-and-human-health) [Trying to live a day without plastic- New York Times](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/11/style/plastic-free.html) [Plastic pollution could be slashed by 80% by 2040, UN says](https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/may/16/plastic-pollution-could-be-slashed-by-80-by-2040-un-says) [Plastic Free President Coalition](https://www.plasticfreepresident.org/#coalition) [Greenpeace report (May 2023) on toxic hazards of recycled nlastic](https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/new-greenpeace-report-calls-out-toxic-hazards-of-recycled-plastic-as-global-plastics-treaty-negotiations-resume-in-paris/)

As the Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA, John Hocevar oversees the organization’s domestic marine conservation efforts and works with international colleagues to keep our oceans healthy for future generations. Since joining Greenpeace in 2004, Hocevar has spearheaded numerous projects, including efforts to improve the sustainability of seafood sold in supermarkets and to phase out single use plastics. A licensed submarine pilot and experienced SCUBA diver, Hocevar has explored the Chukchi Sea, Amazon Reef, Bering Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula in a research submarine. Hocevar also led a scientific expedition to study the scope and impacts of the BP Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Hocevar served on the U.S. delegation to the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Prior to his arrival at Greenpeace, Hocevar was involved in several environmental efforts including Coral Cay Conservation in Belize, Marine Science under Sails, and Green Corps, the field training program for young environmental activists. Previously, Hocevar co-founded and served as Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet. Hocevar earned a bachelor’s degree in evolutionary ecology from the University of Connecticut in 1990 and a master’s degree in marine biology, focused on coral reef conservation, from Nova University in 1993.
Veronique Greenwood is a science journalist and essayist who frequently contributes to the New York Times. A BBC columnist and a former staff writer at Discover Magazine, she has covered the science of sleep, the biology of the senses, and issues in genetics and evolution. Her National Geographic cover story explored genetic profiling in criminal investigations. A recipient of the Santa Fe Institute Journalism Fellowship, she has written about the rise of big data in biology and about the culture of science—how its power structures are formed, who scientists are as people, and what society wants science to be. She recently wrote "_PLASTIC ACTUALLY ISN’T CHEAP_" for Boston Globe, published May 11 2023.
**Dr. Roberto Lucchini** is Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Florida International University. He received his medical degree from the University of Brescia, Italy, in 1987. He recently acted as Deputy Editor on Global Health’s special report on "The Minderoo Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health." From January 2012 to June 2020, he was the Director of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Dr. Lucchini was also the Director of the World Trade Center Data Center at Mount Sinai and the Director of the NIOSH funded Education and Research Center for the States of New York and New Jersey. In these capacities, he coordinated the epidemiological health surveillance of the workers involved in the clean-up operations after 9/11. Dr. Lucchini’s research is focused on the health effects of neurotoxic chemicals and the biological mechanisms by which metals, pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, particulate matter and other toxic chemicals can cause injury in the human nervous system, from neurodevelopment to neurodegeneration. He and his team have conducted studies in general populations as well as in occupational groups. More recently Dr. Lucchini became involved with the research on the health effect among workers and responders who were exposed to chemicals and intense psychological trauma at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terroristic attack. He is studying the increased frequency of cancer, respiratory, mental health and neurological conditions through the use of MRI and PET imaging techniques. Dr. Lucchini has shared his expertise with a variety of national and international news outlets, including Th Conversation.