Plastic pollution and infectious diseases

Elsevier, The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 6, October 2022
Maquart P.-O., Froehlich Y., Boyer S.

The versatility and resistance of plastic allowed for its massive use during the second half of the 20th century. Plastic is hardly degradable and—because waste management is often inefficient—around 55% ends up either in landfill or in nature. Plastic mismanagement thus durably pollutes the environment. Although several studies have pointed out the effect of microplastic and nanoplastic pollution on global health, few have focused on the effect of macroplastics on the proliferation and propagation of infectious diseases and thus on human and livestock health. Plastic debris that holds water can encourage arthropod-borne disease by providing a habitat for some vectors’ immature stages and shelter to anthropophilic and medically important species, potentially increasing local vector populations with implications for disease burden. Similarly, by acting as a stagnant water reservoir, waste plastic promotes the development of pathogenic bacteria (such as leptospirosis) and harmful algae. These microorganisms can produce biofilms, coating plastic fragments that can then colonise new water bodies. These concerns point to the need for a transdisciplinary approach to understand and potentially prevent plastic debris from influencing local vector-borne and waterborne diseases.