Health risks of plastic bags

31 Jan

This meal covered with plastic seems safe but many people are not aware of the possible long-term health dangers of covering food in this manner.YT photo by Malak ShaherMalak ShaherPublished:31-01-2011

The rising steam off the hot corn from the pan looks just too tempting for ordinary people. No oil was used to cook it, and it will not cause any harm to the heart as it does not increase cholesterol in the blood.However, there is a hidden danger for those who like boiled potatoes and steamed corn, and their health is in danger in the long run. This danger comes not from the vegetables, but from the plastic bags they are put in.

“I do not find any obvious danger when I use plastic bags to put corn in,” said Sadeq Abdulkawi, a steamed-corn seller.

The danger lies in the process that occur after the very hot potato or corn is put in the plastic bag. Toxic chemicals from the bags can dissolve upon contact with the hot food and leach into the food before it is eaten. These chemicals from the bags can cause long-term health problems. This leaching of dangerous chemicals into food can occur whenever restaurants and take-away shops to cover hot food in plastic.

All over the world, people talk about the dangers of using plastic bags. However, in Yemen, we face an additional danger as plastic bags made in Yemen often contain more dangerous materials that could affect our health even faster, said Abdulaleem Al-Hashimi, from the Yemen Association for Customer Protection.

The association said that the plastic bags are dangerous to the health as they cause many diseases in the long run. They recommend that consumers not use plastic bags where possible, especially with hot foods.The plastic bags also affect the environment badly as they can take decades or even hundreds of years to breakdown.

All types of plastic bags are unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly, however, the most dangerous type of plastic bags are the black ones. The common black plastic bag is the worst as it is produced from the waste materials used in manufacturing other plastic bags and from other materials used in the oil industry.

In Yemen, the industries that manufacture plastic bags do not follow safety standards, say health experts. Moreover, people in Yemen use plastic bags extensively. They are the first and most popular choice of container in Yemen.

The extensive use of plastic bags, which has polluted the environment and threatened people’s health, has led the government to recently conduct a strict campaign in factories producing bags in Yemen. Last week, the Environment Protection Authority started conducting operations in shops around Sana’a to confiscate and stop the circulation of plastic bags, according to the head of the authority, Mohammad Al-Asbahi.

Al-Asbahi said that around 12 percent of plastic bags in Yemen are manufactured in factories in the capital Sana’a, with the rest coming from other governorates or even from outside Yemen. Since last Saturday, Al-Asbahi said that there has been a massive campaign in all the districts of Sana’a against plastic bags that are dangerous to both people and the environment. The plastic bag confiscation campaign will later involve other Yemeni governorates.

According to a Ryadh Abdulkareem, head of the Environmental Health Administration at Al-Safia district, he supervised the confiscation of more than 140 boxes, containing some 280,000 plastic bags.

Abdulkareem provided the Yemen Times with a copy of a letter from the Ministry of General Works and Roads that stated they should confiscate all plastic bags that are not able to breakdown quickly.

The letter is based on articles 39 and 99 of the General Code of Cleanliness. According to Abdulkareem, all plastic bags should contain a material called B2W, that helps the bags dissolve in a maximum of two or three years. He said that they will distribute posters recommending not to use plastic bags that do not contain this material. Bags containing B2W should be labelled so that consumers can recognize the bags that are environmentally friendly and healthy.

“There will be a very strict campaign against those who still sell such bags [not containing B2W],” said Abdulkareem. The cabinet will allow factories to continue producing plastic bags so long as they use the B2W additive that helps the bags dissolve faster.

Ordinary plastic bags can take more than 40 years to dissolve back into the soil, and can release dangerous chemicals into the soil when they breakdown, according to Al-Hashimi. He added that there are many products other than plastic bags that contain dangerous chemicals that can poison the soil when they breakdown.

The cabinet issued an order in 2008 that banned the use of black plastic bags and that violations could be tried before the law, according to the association. Until people are aware of the dangers of plastic bags, especially the black ones, the association is joining forces with the cabinet and the Environmental Health Administration to spread awareness in the community of the dangers posed by plastic bags.

According to the Al-Asbahi at least five plastic bags are used in Yemeni households every day

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