The Delicate Balance Between Human Health & Sustainability

There is a delicate equilibrium between human health and environmental stewardship. There are more nuances and considerations than meets the eye. Each decision we make, whether in our daily routines or on a broader societal scale, should be given careful consideration. The abundance of sustainable alternatives on the market brings with it a myriad of human health concerns to consider. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to choose between our health and sustainability. Here are some things to consider when making sustainable swaps:

Reusable Water Bottles

While reusable bottles reduce plastic consumption, concerns about mold, microplastic ingestion, and lead leaching highlight the importance of informed consumer choices and proper maintenance practices. Reusable water bottles, if not cleaned and dried properly, can become breeding grounds for mold and bacteria, posing potential health risks to consumers such as respiratory illnesses. Additionally, reusable plastic water bottles can degrade over time, releasing microplastics and other chemicals into the water they contain. When consumed, these tiny particles can accumulate in the body, raising concerns about their long-term health effects. Disposable plastic bottles also expose people to microplastics. Should someone prefer to use a reusable plastic bottle, they should ensure that it says it is free of both BPA and BPS. Lastly, some reusable water bottles, particularly Stanley cups, may contain lead in certain parts of the bottle. With prolonged use or exposure to heat, lead can leach into the water, contaminating it and posing health hazards. Some of these health risks include brain, reproductive, and kidney damage. Not all reusable metal bottles contain lead. Here is a list of lead-free water bottles. 

Recycled Toilet Paper

Compared to virgin toilet paper, recycled toilet paper is far more sustainable. It saves trees and water, uses less energy, and emits less greenhouse gasses. However, recycled toilet paper has recently been shown to have an increased presence of PFAS and BPA, compared to virgin toilet paper. Recycled toilet paper becomes contaminated with BPA and PFAS during the recycling process. PFAS and BPA have been linked to numerous health effects including, but not limited to, cancer, hormonal problems, and decreased fertility. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) put together a toilet paper sustainability scorecard in 2022. While the scorecard serves as a valuable resource for eco-conscious consumers, its focus on environmental metrics overlooks crucial health considerations. Chemically contaminated toilet paper is an unsettling revelation that makes even the most dedicated environmentalists think twice about purchasing recycled toilet paper.

Reusable PPE

Disposable PPE is ubiquitous in medical facilities and the scientific research industry. Medical professionals and scientists are exposed to a myriad of different health risks in the workplace including chemical burns, lung damage, infectious diseases, and numerous others. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) skyrocketed, exacerbating the world’s plastic problem. While crucial for maintaining human health, the environmental consequences of excessive plastic waste are undeniable. Innovative solutions, such as reusable masks and decontamination protocols, offer a glimmer of hope. However, according to a recent study, reusable PPE exposed healthcare workers to contamination, even after decontamination protocols were utilized. To ensure worker safety, reusable PPE must be reengineered to assure protection.

In navigating this intricate web of choices and consequences, there are no easy answers. Each decision we make carries implications for both human health and environmental well-being. Through more conscious engineering, we can strive towards a future where human health is always tied to sustainability. 

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