It should come as no surprise to learn that plastic is toxic. Numerous studies have outlined the physical dangers that the chemicals in plastic present. From disrupting our hormones to causing cancer, the list of possible side effects goes on. However, an often overlooked impact of the plastic problem may just result in the next major mental health crisis.

Eco-anxiety, or the fear of environmental destruction and the loss of our planet’s natural resources, is growing rampant among young people. A recent study surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16-25 from ten different countries and found that almost 60% were either extremely worried or very worried about climate change. Over half reported feeling sad, angry, helpless, anxious, powerless, and guilty. Eco-anxiety is not just a concern for young people. There are plenty of adults who also experience these fears to an extent that either impairs their daily functioning or worsens other pre-existing mental conditions.

As we know, plastic - from production through disposal - is a leading contributor to climate change. It can easily be attributed as a leading cause of this existential-based eco-anxiety; especially considering our direct contribution to, and sheer magnitude of, the plastic pollution crisis.

The threat to our mental health doesn’t stop there. Just like the toxic chemicals in plastic can impede our physical health, they could also put vulnerable populations at a higher risk for mental illness. Phthalates and other chemicals found directly in plastic may be linked to an increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, ADD, or psychotic symptoms such as those found in schizophrenia. This is primarily due to the disruption of healthy brain development and hormone regulation. Since toxins can pass directly from mothers to their unborn children, people may be born predisposed to developing a mental illness later in life.

New research is also studying the correlation between increased cases of mental illness and exposure to contaminated air and water sources in fenceline communities. This serves as a stark reminder of the environmental racism found at the heart of the plastic industry. Unfortunately, these individuals are also at a higher risk of becoming ‘climate refugees’ when they are forced to leave their homes due to unsafe or uninhabitable conditions. It is unacceptable to condone such avoidable suffering just so a small portion of the population can prosper.

Read the full article about plastic pollution and mental health by Rachael Coccia at  Surfrider Foundation.