This World Oceans Day let’s take a second to talk trash. Our oceans are choking on it and the big offender is plastic. As well as the immense damage being inflicted upon marine life, it’s easy to lose sight of the connection between plastic pollution, our oceans, oxygen production and human health.

Plankton, like trees, produce oxygen and help keep our air fresh and safe to breathe. The scale of oceanic pollution is so vast that in some areas, plastic pollution outweighs plankton by more than 6 times! Plastic pollution is driving the pace of destruction through direct and indirect intoxification of marine life by the many chemicals in plastic. What may start out as a large piece of plastic trash, will break apart over time, leaching chemicals into the environment. This will eventually transform into a microplastic, which is consumed by marine life and suffocates reefs and plankton. Human health is affected directly through the consumption of fish and indirectly through air pollution.

There are many ways that plastic is dangerous for humans. Direct toxicity from plastic comes from lead, cadmium and mercury. These toxins have also been found in many fish in the ocean, which is very dangerous for humans. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) contained in some plastics, is a toxic carcinogen. Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.

Other types of toxic plastics are BPA or health-bisphenol-A, along with DEHP. Both of these are of great concern to human health. BPA is used in many things including plastic bottles and food packaging materials. Over time the polymer chains of BPA break down, and can enter the human body by drinking contaminated water or eating fish that have been exposed to the broken down toxins. BPA is also a known chemical that interferes with human hormonal function.

Rolf Halden, associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and Arizona State University has studied plastics adverse effects on humans and has thus far concluded that the exact outline of health effects of plastics on humans is almost impossible to determine. This is due to the fact that the problem of plastic contamination in humans is globally spread; there are almost no unexposed subjects. That is a catastrophic finding! Essentially there are no unaffected humans to use as a benchmark, so they cannot plot the scale of the crisis.

We all play a critical role in turning the tide of environmental destruction. Small changes lead to big differences. How we consume single-use disposable products will create huge, and immediate, positive impact on the environment and human health.

A great place to start is deciding to stop using traditional single-use plastics. There are alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics such as Emerald BPA-Free compostable cold cups made from polylactic acid (PLA), a bio-based plastic made from corn starch. PLA is a sustainable and renewable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. Deciding to switch to bio-based plastics is important, not just to reduce the impact on the wider environment, but to protect the seas, which in turn, will protect your health. Unlike traditional plastics, under the proper conditions, Emerald’s plant-based alternatives will biodegrade completely in less than a year; leaving no trace behind.

As we reflect on the damage we are doing to the environment, and the harm we’re doing to our health, switching to bio-based plastics and Tree-Free disposable products is the responsible thing to do. And, remember where you toss your trash matters. Your health depends on it.