Classify Plastics as Hazardous Waste, Scientists Urge

Waste & Recycling News
02/14/2013

by: WRN Staff

A group of scientists believe they have a way to keep plastics from ending up in oceans or being littered across the countryside: classify plastics as hazardous waste.

"We believe that if countries classified the most harmful plastics as hazardous, their environmental agencies would have the power to restore affected habitats and prevent more dangerous debris from accumulating," a group of 10 scientists wrote in an article posted Feb. 13 on the journal Nature's website.

As a template, the scientists are using the 1989 Montreal Protocol, which classified chlorofluorocarbons as hazardous and which has proven to be one of the most successful environmental initiatives in history.

One of the researchers, Chelsea Marina Rochman, told the Los Angeles Times that similar accomplishments can be achieved if four difficult-to-recycle plastics -- polyvinylchloride (PVC), polystyrene, polyurethane and polycarbonate – are targeted.

According to the Nature article, less than half of the 280 million tons of plastic produced globally in 2012 ended up recycled or in a landfill. The scientists suggest that a substantial amount of the remaining 150 million tons of plastic ended up as litter. Without action, the global environment will have to deal with 33 billion tons of plastic by 2050.

"This could be reduced to just 4 billion tons if the most problematic plastics are classified as hazardous immediately and replaced with safer, reusable materials in the next decade," the scientists wrote. "We feel that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste – the United States, Europe and China – must act now."

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