Recycling makes plastic toxic, Greenpeace report says
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The report argues that global controls on chemicals in plastics and significant reductions in plastics production are the only solution to the “plastic crisis.”
A new report from environmental activist group Greenpeace USA claims that recycling actually increases the toxicity of plastics.
Titled “Forever Toxic: The science of health threats from plastic recycling,” the May 24 report catalogs peer-reviewed research and international studies and cites UN Environment Programme data that show plastics contain more than 13,000 chemicals, “3,200 of them known to be hazardous to human health.”
Publication of the report was timed to appear a few days before the start of the second round of Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Paris from May 29 to June 2.
“[Recycled plastics] often contain higher levels of chemicals that can poison people and contaminate communities, including toxic flame retardants, benzene, and other carcinogens; environmental pollutants like brominated and chlorinated dioxins; and numerous endocrine disruptors that can cause changes to the body’s natural hormone levels,” the report said.
The report highlights what it calls “three poisonous pathways” for recycled plastic material to accumulate toxic chemicals: direct contamination from toxic chemicals in virgin plastic, leaching of toxic substances into plastic waste, and new toxic chemicals created by the recycling process.
“When plastics are heated in the recycling process, this can generate new toxic chemicals that make their way into the recycled plastics,” Greenpeace said. “Studies have shown that benzene (a carcinogen) can be created by mechanical recycling of PET#1 plastic, even with very low rates of contamination by PVC#3 plastic, resulting in the cancer-causing chemical being found in recycled plastics.”
The report also cites Dr. Therese Karlsson, a science advisor with the International Pollutants Elimination Network. “Simply put, plastic poisons the circular economy and our bodies, and pollutes air, water, and food,” Karlsson said in the report. “We should not recycle plastics that contain toxic chemicals. Real solutions to the plastics crisis will require global controls on chemicals in plastics and significant reductions in plastic production.”
The Greenpeace report drew immediate criticism from members of the plastics industry. “If Greenpeace had its way, modern life would be dramatically different,” said Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council. “People across the world, particularly in developing countries, would have less access to clean drinking water, safe food supplies, sanitary medical and personal care products, and renewable energy. The proposals in their report would disrupt global supply chains, hinder sustainable development, and substitute plastics with materials that have a much higher carbon footprint in critical applications.”