7 Environmental Impacts of Polymers

The environmental impacts of polymers are increasing in tandem with consumer demand for products containing polymers. The ecological problems caused by plastic pollution continue to exist, despite mounting worries about the lack of effective solutions to the problem.

A chemical structure consisting of repeating units that can create networks in one, two, or three dimensions is referred to as a polymer. Links are formed through the polymerization of repeating units, which are commonly composed of hydrogen and carbon.

While polymers are naturally occurring substances that comprise structures like DNA, they are also frequently used to refer to synthetic materials used to make plastic bottles, films, cups, and textiles.

Nowadays, polymers are used in nearly every facet of daily life. For example, among its many uses are in the production of furniture, wearable technology, kitchen utensils, and car parts.

Made-to-order polymers include a variety of goods. Certain typical products, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polybutylene, or polystyrene, only have carbon and hydrogen atoms in them.

Some, like nylon, have nitrogen atoms as a repeating unit backbone, while others, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), have chloride connected to the all-carbon backbone.

Because of their molecular integrity and structure, polymers are particularly appealing materials to use in the production of a variety of goods since they are often strong and light, resistant to heat, electricity, and most chemicals, and they are frequently derived from petroleum.

However, in natural settings, polymers are very hard to break down because of the same properties.

Nylon and polypropylene are examples of synthetic polymeric fibers with useful physical properties. For example, they offer high specific surface area and enhance mechanical qualities.

Human-made synthetic fibers are mostly obtained through chemical modification from petroleum compounds. Semicrystalline polymers are the most common type that are drawn and extruded in a variety of cross-sectional forms.

Submicrometer synthetic polymeric fibers have also been the subject of much research in more recent times, with applications in medicine including tissue engineering and wound treatments.

Polymers are being used more and more because of their vast variety of material qualities and versatility in manufacturing and production processes. It is difficult to imagine our daily existence without plastics or polymers.

Polymers serve as the primary constituents of plastics. Nevertheless, there are significant disadvantages to the use of plastics in terms of their detrimental effects on the environment. The environmental effects of plastics and polymers, which are the products of production, are the subject of several academic forums and research publications.

Less is spoken about, though, about how the production of the finished polymeric fibers and the extraction of ingredients for solvents and polymers affect the environment.

In the natural world, plastic mediums can take hundreds of years to decompose. The world is currently experiencing numerous environmental problems, primarily as a result of plastic and landfill waste.

Environmental Impacts of Polymers

  • Polymers in the Ocean
  • Microplastic Pollution
  • Environmental Impacts of Polystyrene
  • Food Imitation
  • POPs Secretion
  • Production Pollution
  • Landfill Accumulation

1. Polymers in the Ocean

The yearly inflow of plastic garbage into marine systems is estimated to reach 100–250 million metric tons by 2025. One of the top 10 new environmental issues facing marine ecosystems is the widespread presence of plastic particles in marine debris, which is found in all seas.

The proliferation of plastics, sometimes known as “plastic pollution,” is known to have a detrimental effect on marine organism fitness and to interfere with the proper operation of marine ecosystems.

Because plastic particles are resistant to decomposition and have negative consequences upon ingestion, there is evidence that they influence biochemical, physiological, and behavioral processes at the organismal level.

Even in the absence of ingestion, synthetic polymers like polyethylene (PE)-based beads take very little time to degrade in marine environments, leading to elevated levels of organic matter and the formation of oxidized groups in the nearby saltwater.

As public awareness of the consequences of plastic particles has grown, the overall effects of polymer-based plastics on marine habitats are becoming more known.

2. Microplastic Pollution

Small plastic particles known as microplastics (MPs) are frequently discovered in discarded goods. Primary microplastics are made up of tiny plastic grains that are used in a variety of items, including air-blasting devices, face cleansers, and medication delivery systems.

Conversely, secondary microplastics are minute pieces of plastic that remain after bigger plastic objects, such as primary microplastics, break down.

In living things like fish and humans, microplastics can cause small disruptions, but when they accumulate in greater amounts, they can be fatal.

According to research, microplastics significantly harm human cells and are linked to serious health problems like cancer, respiratory disorders, and birth abnormalities.

3. Environmental Impacts of Polystyrene

Expanded polystyrene foam may be cheap to produce, but it comes at a significant cost to people and the environment. Plastic foam poses a threat to wildlife because it does not biodegrade.

Plastic foam gets into the ecosystem by disintegrating into ever-tinier fragments, which animals frequently mistake for food. These fragments will be consumed by wildlife, such as seagulls, or fed to their young, filling their tummies with plastic.

These creatures won’t feel hungry because their bellies are full of plastic pieces, so they’ll probably starve to death or cause irreversible harm to themselves. Polystyrene foam is a floatable material that can damage animals worldwide by floating through waterways.

People’s health is also impacted by polystyrene foam due to its chemical composition. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that styrene, one of the primary constituents of polystyrene, may be carcinogenic to humans.

This chemical poses a serious risk to human health if it seeps into food and beverages supplied in polystyrene containers. There are serious health hazards for those who produce foam and other goods made of styrene. As many workers do when making different products, breathing in styrene can cause long-term damage to the nervous system.

Polystyrene foam that has expanded is a major source of plastic pollution. It pollutes the environment and landfills with masses of garbage, endangering the health of both people and animals. All we have to do is quit using it.

4. Food Imitation

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, millions of seabirds perish each year as a result of ingestion of synthetic polymers that were mistaken for food, making this one of the most prevalent environmental issues linked to the pollution of synthetic polymers. This information pertains to 44% of seabird species.

Due to their crucial ecological role in regulating fish and crustacean population numbers, shorebirds’ widespread extinction poses a serious threat to the ecosystem.

5. POPs Secretion

POPs, or persistent organic pollutants, are recognized toxins that linger in the environment for extended periods. Examples of these include toxaphene and DDT pesticides.

Researchers from the University of the Pacific tested synthetic polymers from coastal locations in the northern Pacific Ocean in 2007 and discovered that each sample contained dangerous poisons.

These artificial polymers pose a threat to the health of ocean fisheries that provide food for humans by continually secreting toxic chemicals into fish and wildlife when consumed.

6. Production Pollution

In addition to obviously polluting the oceans, the manufacture of synthetic polymers can have negative environmental effects.

The DuPont chemical firm spilled contaminants used in Teflon production into local watersheds over several decades, according to evidence provided by the Environmental Working Group organization.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that this substance builds up in fish gills and can move rapidly up the food chain.

7. Landfill Accumulation

Beyond the fact that synthetic polymers are persistent in oceans and cause water pollution due to their manufacture, they also pose a serious problem on land because they are frequently disposed of in landfills, where they will continue to slowly leak toxins into the soil over decades.

Less than 1% of the 102.1 billion plastic bags—a synthetic polymer—that Americans alone use a year are recycled, according to the Clean Air Council organization.

In addition to their slow release of toxic compounds into the soil, these synthetic polymers are so long-lasting and non-biodegradable that additional landfill space will always be required as long as synthetic polymer use persists and increases.


At any point in their lives, polymers may have a significant impact on the environment. Oil extraction uses a lot of energy and can leak, which has an immediate negative impact on the local ecology.

Following the production of the product, the processing of oil to create the raw material requires a lot of energy and may release fumes that are dangerous to both people and the environment.

These processes might not be powered by renewable energy sources, which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.

Because the majority of commercial polymers are not biodegradable, single-use plastics can clog up public areas and local habitats. They can also last for decades.

Proper disposal of polymer products by customers may result in their landfilling. Even the recycling of polymers requires a lot of energy and chemicals, which increases the risk of greenhouse gases and harmful fumes.

As we’ve seen, the usage and production of plastics hurt the environment, contributing to trash production and greenhouse gas emissions. The use of compostable and biodegradable plastics is becoming more and more popular.

These substances are made to decompose in the environment more quickly and to produce less trash as a result of the manufacturing and usage of plastics.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.