Toddler holding packed fruit smiling at camera
Plastics pervade every part of our lives. Much is single-use, unnecessary and may harm our health. Photo Credit: Tang Ming Tung via Getty Images.


Plastics & Human Health

To eliminate the harmful effects of plastic on human health using research evidence, international collaboration and advocacy to drive changes in how plastic is made, used and managed.

Revealing the impacts of plastics on human health

Plastic is everywhere. It is incredibly useful and has transformed our lives, but poses a serious threat to human health.

The Minderoo Foundation Plastics & Human Health program has assembled authoritative and credible evidence and is collaborating with experts around the world in the shared aim to investigate and highlight the negative impacts of plastic on our health.

We are revealing the impacts of plastics on human health by harnessing research literature and supporting clinical research infrastructure to inform government policy and the redesign of plastics by the plastics industry.

Why we care

There’s mounting evidence and growing concern about the impact of some plastic chemicals and plastic particles on human health.

Scientists have established links between everyday exposure to chemical additives that leach from plastics and reproductive health issues, brain health, obesity, diabetes and some types of cancer. The effects are evident in babies, children, and adults – young and old.

Microplastics – tiny particles of plastic under 5mm in length – are known to be in our air, soil, rivers, oceans, plants and animals. They are from degraded plastic products, textiles, tyre abrasion, industry, agriculture and general waste. Microplastics are also intentionally added to products, for example cosmetics.

We know that microplastics get into our gut and lungs, but we don’t yet know how far they penetrate our blood and organs nor what impacts they have on human health. Concerningly, neither do we know how far the smaller virus-sized nanoparticles penetrate our bodies because we do not have suitable techniques to measure them. What we do know is that plastic is devastating our oceans, freshwater and land ecosystems that are essential for all life.

Our focus

We are harnessing existing evidence and contributing new evidence about the impact of plastics on human health; and collaborating with like-minded researchers around the world to improve global understanding.

We are also building infrastructure to improve the capacity of scientists to do this critical work at scale.

And we are using this evidence to influence governments to take urgent action in three ways:

  1. Reverse the burden of proof so that plastic chemicals are regulated in a way that proves safety before release rather society having to prove harm after release.
  2. Ban dangerous plastics – those containing toxic additives and which fragment into smaller and smaller pieces.
  3. Promote the development of new materials that do not contain toxic chemicals and do not cause environmental damage when they break down.

We are united with Minderoo Foundation’s No Plastic Waste team to inform businesses, governments and consumers to end plastic pollution. We encourage innovations that create alternatives to plastic or fundamentally re-design it to contain safe additives and degrade into natural products.

What the science is telling us

  1. Plastic chemicals harm human health.
  2. Everyday exposure to plastic chemicals is linked to health effects, including:
    • Reproductive health issues
    • Children’s brain health issues
    • Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and dermatitis
  3. We are exposed at all stages of life from pre-conception onwards.
  4. Health effects are seen at birth, and in babies, children and adults.
  5. Three of the leading causes of death – obesity, high blood sugar and high blood pressure – are associated with plastic exposure.
How you can help

Find out which companies are making and financing plastic – in Minderoo Foundation’s Plastic Waste Makers Index and lend your support for corporate responsibility.

Contact your government representative to ensure they take action to stop the import, production and sale of harmful plastic chemicals and particles and to protect natural systems from plastic pollution.

Encourage your shops and cafes to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging and to stock plastic-free alternatives.

See what you can start doing today to reduce your exposure and contribute to a healthier world:


A comparison of different types of plastics.

Project members

Sarah Dunlop
Director, Plastics & Human Health
Christos Symeonides
Clinical & Research Specialist
Lisa Hooyer
Engagement and Impact Manager
Manuel Brunner
Research Analyst
Louise Goodes
Louise Goodes
Clinical and Research Coordinator
Brady Johnston
Research Data Scientist
Louise Mofflin
Clinical Research Analyst
Yannick Mulders
Research Analyst
Priyanka Toshniwal
Research Analyst
Joanne Webb
Research Analyst / Writer
Emily White
Project Specialist
Enoch Wong
Research Data Scientist