Table 1.

Selected quotes reflecting the diversity of content and some of the scientific conclusions of authors in this Theme Issue. Phthalates, BPA, PBDE and tetrabromobisphenol A (TTBPA) are chemical additives, and in the case of BPA, a monomer used in the production of plastics.

‘Any future scenario where plastics do not play an increasingly important role in human life therefore seems unrealistic’ (Andrady & Neal 2009).
‘One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics’ (Barnes et al. 2009).
‘Monitoring is crucial to assess the efficacy of measures implemented to reduce the abundance of plastic debris, but it is complicated by large spatial and temporal heterogeneity in the amounts of plastic debris and by our limited understanding of the pathways followed by plastic debris and its long-term fate’ (Ryan et al. 2009).
‘The environmental, cultural, aesthetic, commercial and other problems arising from pelagic plastics in particular and varied marine debris items in general are manifold, widely acknowledged and often difficult to address’ (Gregory 2009).
‘As plastics production and usage continue to increase, particularly in economically developing countries, the environmental implications of their disposal should be carefully considered to avoid inadvertent release, magnification and transport of contaminants’ (Teuten et al. 2009).
‘Phthalates and BPA have been shown to affect reproduction in all studied animal groups, to impair development in crustaceans and amphibians and to induce genetic aberrations. Molluscs, crustaceans and amphibians appear to be especially sensitive to these compounds, and biological effects are observed at environmentally relevant exposures in the low ng l−1 to µg l−1 range’ (Oehlmann et al. 2009).
‘PBDE and TTBPA have been shown to disrupt thyroid hormone homeostasis while PBDEs also exhibit anti-androgen action. Experimental investigations in animals indicate a wide variety of effects associated with exposure to these compounds, causing concern regarding potential risk to human health’ (Talsness et al. 2009).
‘Studies also are needed to identify the phthalate metabolites and BPA species relevant to human health, paying special attention to potentially vulnerable segments of the population (e.g. children, women of reproductive age, minorities)’ (Koch & Calafat 2009).
‘… small changes in hormone levels resulting from exposure may be of public health importance when considering the prevalence of exposure to plastic additives and endocrine disrupting compounds among entire populations’ (Meeker et al. 2009).
‘Around 4 per cent of world oil and gas production, a non-renewable resource, is used as feedstock for plastics and a further 3–4% is expended to provide energy for their manufacture. A major portion of plastic produced each year is used to make disposable items of packaging or other short-lived products that are discarded within a year of manufacture. These two observations alone indicate that our current use of plastics is not sustainable. In addition, because of the durability of the polymers involved, substantial quantities of discarded end-of-life plastics are accumulating as debris in landfills and in natural habitats worldwide. Recycling is one of the most important actions currently available to reduce these impacts and represents one of the most dynamic areas in the plastics industry today. Recycling provides opportunities to reduce oil usage, carbon dioxide emissions and the quantities of waste requiring disposal’ (Hopewell et al. 2009).
‘Bioplastic polymers have great potential to contribute to material recovery, reduction of landfill and use of renewable resources. Widespread public awareness of these materials and effective infrastructure for stringent control of certification, collection, separation and composting will be crucial to obtaining these benefits in full’ (Song et al. 2009).
‘… there is an opportunity to address many of these issues simultaneously by using the science in this issue to help develop an enhanced Road Map for policy around plastics, the environment and human health in the UK’ (Shaxson 2009).
‘… plastic production continues to grow at approximately 9 per cent per annum … . As a consequence, the quantity of plastics produced in the first 10 years of the current century will approach the total that was produced in the entire century that preceded.’ (Thompson et al. 2009).