Plastics, Pesticides and PFAS: Risks to Health and Climate

The Negative Health Effects of Plastics, Pesticides and PFAS

Plastics and pesticides have serious negative climate and health impacts.  These effects are on track to increase dramatically in the next decade; they disproportionately and unjustly burden low income and other vulnerable populations like pregnant mothers, children, workers, ethnic minorities, and Indigenous nations.

The petrochemicals used to make plastics are in many instances the same ones used to make pesticides. Many additives, like the health harming “forever chemicals” PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are used in the manufacture of both plastics and pesticides.

These chemicals don’t just drive climate change, which itself has important negative health impacts. Plastics, pesticides and PFAS also exert independent negative health harms that magnify the negative health effects of climate change. GBPSR advocates for raising awareness of these negative health impacts.

Pfas A Risk To Health

PFAS: A Risk to Health

White paper from Greater Boston PSR on the health risks of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

Plastics A Risk To Health

Plastics: A Risk to Health

White paper from Greater Boston PSR on the health risks of plastics.

Pesticides A Risk To Health

Pesticides: A Risk to Health

White paper from Greater Boston PSR on the health risks of pesticides.

How Plastics and Pesticides Drive Climate Change

Many people are not aware that petrochemicals used in the production and manufacture of plastics, pesticides and chemicals like PFAS are likewise a significant and increasing driver of climate disruption.

Oil and gas are the main feedstocks for plastic and petrochemical production. They are used to manufacture 98% of plastics and 99% of pesticides. Production of plastics, pesticides and petrochemicals is extremely energy-intensive. Fossil fuels are required at every point in the production cycle of pesticides and plastics, from manufacturing to packaging, transportation, application and waste disposal.

Fossil fuel combustion is the major source of the greenhouse gasses responsible for driving climate change. Plastic production is responsible for the release of nearly 2 gigatons of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere each year – roughly 5% of greenhouse gasses worldwide and more than the annual contribution of Brazil.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide leads to increases in ocean and soil acidity, killing ocean life and trees; this in turn decreases the ability of natural systems to absorb pollutants and to provide oxygen to the atmosphere.

Production of plastics and petrochemicals is increasing exponentially, driven by efforts by the oil and gas industry to divert their product into these industries as the heating and transportation sectors rapidly shift to renewable sources of energy like wind and solar.

Plastic recycling is a false solution. Over 90% of plastic waste is not recycled: it ends up in landfills or is dumped on beaches or in the ocean, where it contributes to increased ocean acidification and deoxygenation. When “recycled” plastic is burned, it adds to air pollution and greenhouse gasses, and contributes to climate change.

Much of the plastic that is counted as “recycled” is, in fact, shipped overseas where it ends up polluting the world’s poorest countries.

Our Advocacy

GBPSR advocates for:

  • Banning single use plastics worldwide
  • Increasing public awareness of the health hazards of plastics and pesticides
  • Requiring that plastic manufacturers cover the cost of plastic waste recovery – termed Extended Producer Responsibility.
Plastic Bottles

How Pesticides Fuel the Climate Crisis

Oil and gas are the main feedstocks for pesticide production. They are used to manufacture 99% of pesticides. Many of the world’s biggest oil companies produce pesticides and their chemical ingredients.

Agriculture and pesticide use account for more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Like plastics, pesticides magnify climate change at every point of their production cycle.

Far from a climate mitigation strategy, intensifying food production through the continuous use of agricultural chemicals harms health and destroys important habitats for humans and other species essential to human life, including  pollinators, birds, insects, other mammals and fish.

Pesticide use also creates a vicious cycle: the manufacture of pesticides worsens climate change, while climate change lowers the ability of crops to withstand infestation and increases the number of harmful insects, which appear for the most part uniquely able to survive extreme temperatures.

This vicious cycle leads to excessive use of ever-increasing amounts of pesticides, which in turn rapidly become ineffective since insects and weeds can develop resistance to insecticides and herbicides at lightspeed.

Our Advocacy

We at GBPSR advocate for a resilient response to the current climate crisis, including:

  • The utilization of non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. Effective alternatives to synthetic petrochemical pesticides include plant-derived products, microbial pesticides and
  • Decreasing children’s exposure to pesticides particularly near schools and child care centers. Banning pesticide application near schools and updating standards for use near children safeguards children’s health, promotes social justice, and protects our common home.
  • Banning the use of PFAS, benzene and other known carcinogenic chemicals in pesticides.

Pesticide use is both a direct and indirect driver of climate change, not part of the solution. Eliminating petrochemical pesticides will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, improve the climate resilience of agricultural systems, and improve human health and the health of the global environment.



The Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health. Ann Glob Health. 2023 Mar 21;89(1):23. doi: 10.5334/aogh.4056. PMID: 36969097; PMCID: PMC10038118.

The Health Effects of Pesticides
GBPSR Testimony

Recognizing the Health Effects of Pesticides
Vital Signs, Massachusetts Medical Society