Skip to content (press enter)


The Price Tag of Plastic's Burden on Human Health? $249 Billion

Every day, new research reveals how microscopic pieces of plastics are found in common items we consume, and where and how they are harming our bodies. The drumbeat continues with a study from Columbia University and Rutgers University researchers showing roughly 240,000 detectable plastic fragments in bottled water.

Plastic water bottle breaking down

Another recent study from New York University investigates the tradeoffs in a society reliant on plastic production, both as a source of economic productivity and its associated social cost. Researchers analyzed existing literature on the human health impacts of plastics, in particular, hormone-disrupting plastic chemicals (also known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals) that can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and preterm birth, among other diseases and illnesses.

The researchers estimated that in the United States in 2018, $249 billion, or 1.22% of the gross domestic product, could be attributed to these harmful plastic chemicals and their associated disease burden. The cost of plastic pollution and its social and environmental burden will continue to rise as long as we keep producing cheap and worthless single-use plastics. To put $249 billion in perspective, the entire US space program could be funded for about 16 years, based on the 2021 budget of $15.5 billion.

Microplastics have been found in various foods.To move away from single-use plastics, we need comprehensive solutions that significantly reduce plastic production and eliminate plastic pollution. The study concludes that the Global Plastic Treaty and other policies are necessary to make systematic changes.

Furthermore, specific plastic-related chemicals that cause the most harm, such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), bisphenols, flame retardants, and phthalates, need to be reduced. These toxic chemicals are used in a variety of ways including as coatings, to make plastic more durable, to create products that are resistant to heat, and to reduce the chances of a product catching on fire (ex. furniture foam padding, rugs, personal care products, non-stick cooking pans). A decrease in exposure will lead to savings in healthcare costs due to lower disease burdens. Learn more about how plastic is toxic to human health and our environment here.

Join or donate to the Surfrider Foundation as we work towards creating healthy communities and environments!