Plastic is the general term for a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic polymerisation products. The versatility of plastics has led to its use in almost everything we use today.
 How does this affect me?
Plastic waste in the oceans poses a potentially devastating long-term toxic threat to the food chain, according to marine scientists. They opine that plastics in the marine environment will accumulate and concentrate toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater and is harmful for the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem. This can result in concentrations several thousand times greater than in the surrounding water on the surface. Plastic is all around us. It forms much of the packaging for our food and drink. For many of us it is throughout our home, our workplace, our car and the bus we take to and from work. It can be in our clothing, eyeglasses, teeth, computers, phones, dishes, utensils, toys. The list goes on.
Plastic is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, durable, strong and relatively inexpensive. It can be chemical resistant, clear or opaque, and practically unbreakable. These are wonderful useful qualities, and plastic plays many important roles in life on Earth, but the widespread use of plastic is also causing unprecedented environmental problems, and harbors serious health risks – especially for children. Plastic should be used wisely, with caution and only when suitable alternatives do not exist or are not available.
 All about plastic
The all-pervasive use of plastics stems from the benefits it has to offer - lightness, flexibility, durability and water-resistance - to name a few. Various types of plastic polymers are widely used throughout the world for a variety of useful purposes. The most popular plastic polymers include polyenthylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene, nylon, tetra-phthalate (PET), polyurethenes, etc.
 Classification of plastics
Plastics, depending on their physical properties, may be classified as thermoplastic or thermosetting materials. Thermoplastic materials are formed into desired shapes under heat and pressure and become solids on cooling. If they are subjected to the same conditions of heat and pressure, they can be remolded. Thermosetting materials acquire infallibility under heat and pressure and cannot be remolded. Plastics are classified also according to their chemical sources. The twenty or more known basic types fall into four general groups:
- Cellulose plastics include the cellulose nitrates and cellulose acetates. The cellulose nitrate plastics are the oldest in this group, and "Celluloid" is the oldest example. These plastics are made from cotton or wood pulp.
- Synthetic resin plastics include the phenol formaldehyde, phenolic furfural, urea formaldehyde, vinyl, styrene, and acrylic plastics. These plastics are made from phenol, formaldehyde, urea, acetylene, petroleum, glycerol, and phthalic anhydride.
- Protein plastics--casein plastics are the most common type in the protein group. They are made from milk. Other protein plastics are made from soy beans, coffee beans, peanuts, and other agricultural products.
- Natural resins include shellac, asphalt, rosin, amber, and pitch. These materials with fillers are usually cold-molded.
 What can I do?
Here are some simple tips to help you in working toward a life without plastic, or a life of safer, more informed plastic use.
 Useful Tips
- Avoid baby bottles and sipper cups made of polycarbonate (#7). Instead opt for glass, stainles steel, polyethylene or polypropylene. Read the lables carefully to know the kind of plastic the bottle or the cup contains.
- Instead of plastic nipples for baby bottles, use silicone which does not leach the carcinogenic nitrosamines that can be found in latex.
- If you still have to use polycarbonate (#7) bottles, avoid heating food and drink in the bottle. Heat it in a separate container and transfer it to the bottle once it is warm enough for the child to eat or drink. If the plastic is showing signs of wear – scratched, cloudy – discard the container.
- For drinking water, opt for steel or glass bottles or containers. Try and avoid bottled water in plastic bottles. If you do use plastic bottles made from #1 or #2 plastic try not to reuse them as they are intended only for single use.
- If you are using a #1 plastic water bottle, try to consume the contents as soon as possible because leaching of antimony increases with time.
- Try to avoid heating foods in plastic containers, especially in the microwave oven, which can cause the plastic to degrade and leach chemicals faster.
- Use plastic wraps with caution, especially in the microwave, and try to keep the plastic from touching the food. Alternatives include wax paper or paper towels.
- Try and use alternatives to plastic packaging and storage containers. Cloth, paper or cardboard are possibilities for transporting groceries. Stainless steel and glass food storage containers are available.
- Avoid plastic dishes and utensils for meals. Alternatives include glass, ceramic, wood, stainless steel, and lacquer ware.
 Plastic and the environment
However, the biggest current problem with the conventional plastics is the associated environmental concerns, including non-biodegradability, release of toxic pollutants, litter and impacts on landfill as a result of the production and disposal of petroleum and petroleum-based plastics. Of late, indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste, mostly containing plastic bags is a prime cause for concern. The disposal of plastic bags is not just become an eyesore, but is clogging the drainage system, disturbing the ecological sanctity of waterbodies as well as interfering with the recharge of underground water. Accumulated plastic bags choke municipal sewer lines and storm water drains, and clog the bar-screens of sewage treatment plants, often resulting in water logging. The recent floods in Mumbai, India, are a case in point. In addition, animals often consume plastic waste causing internal injury, intestinal blockage and starvation, sometimes leading to death. Unscientific disposal of plastic waste also causes landslides in the hills.
 Health impact of plastic
Some of the constituents of plastic such as benzene and vinyl chloride are known to cause cancer, while many others are gases and liquid hydrocarbons that vitiate earth and air. Plastic resins themselves are flammable and have contributed considerably to several accidents worldwide.
The noxious substances emitted during the production of plastic are synthetic chemicals like ethylene oxide, benzene and xylenes. Besides hitting hard the eco-system, which is already fragile, these chemicals can cause an array of maladies ranging from birth defects to cancer, damage the nervous system and the immune system and also adversely affect the blood and the kidneys. And, many of these toxic substances are emitted during recycling of plastic, too.
- The UN Environment Programme estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean on Earth. 
- Recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W bulb for up to 6 hours. 
- Products made from recovered plastic bottles include drainage pipes, toys, carpet, filler for pillows and sleeping bags, and cassette casings.
- If you lined up all the polystyrene foam or styrofoam cups made in just one day, they would circle the earth.
- World plastic production uses 4% of the annual oil production while fuel for transport uses 31% of annual oil production.
- When plastic comes into contact with oily or fatty foods, or when the plastic is scratched, worn, cracked, or becomes sticky, leaching of chemicals into the food increases.
 See Also
- Our oceans are turning into plastic...are we? -- Best Life Magazine
- Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment?
- Fantastic Plastic Facts
- Plastic Info
- Plastic Facts, Purdue.edu
- Plastic at your peril
- Plastic Facts
- 'Sustainable' bio-plastic can damage the environment
- Warning on plastic's toxic threat