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Recycled plastics contain hundreds of toxins, study finds

Newswise — When scientists examined recycled plastic pellets collected from 13 countries, they found hundreds of toxic chemicals, including pesticides and pharmaceuticals.
The results are published in a study led by scientists at the University of Gothenburg.

For this reason, scientists deem recycled plastics unsuitable for most uses and an obstacle to attempts to create a circular economy.

Delegates, scientists and health and environmental advocates from around the world are traveling to Nairobi, Kenya, for next week’s meeting of the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the Plastics Treaty (INC -3).

There, scientists will urge delegates to heed the latest science showing that because toxic chemicals are used to make all plastics and plastics adsorb other chemicals during use, no plastics can be considered safe or circular.

“Plastic recycling has been touted as a solution to the plastic pollution crisis, but toxic chemicals in plastics make it difficult to reuse and dispose of and hamper recycling,” says Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth of the University of Gothenburg.

More than 600 chemical compounds identified

In a study recently published in Data in brief via ScienceDirectled by Carney Almroth, plastic pellets from plastic recycling plants in 13 different countries in Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe, they contained hundreds of chemicals, including many highly toxic pesticides.

A total of 491 organic compounds were detected and quantified in the pellets, with an additional 170 compounds tentatively annotated. These compounds span various classes, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, and plastic additives.

A risk present for everyone

There are few regulations on chemicals in plastics, and the international trade in plastic waste compounds this problem.

In a correspondence published this month in the prestigious journal Science Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, IPEN, Aarhus University and the University of Exeter noted that: “Hazardous chemicals pose risks to recycling workers and consumers, as well as for society and the environment at large. Before recycling can help solve the plastic pollution crisis, the plastic industry must limit dangerous chemicals. More than 13,000 chemicals used in plastics, 25% of which are classified as hazardous. Scientists claim that “no plastic chemical can be classified as safe.”

“We must gradually phase out harmful chemicals”

Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth brings a clear message to next week’s meeting in Nairobi:

“Numerous studies show that hazardous chemicals can accumulate even in relatively closed plastic recycling systems. We must quickly eliminate plastic chemicals that can harm human health and the environment.

Scientific article in ScienceDirect: A dataset of organic pollutants identified and quantified in recycled polyethylene pellets

Scientific correspondence: Simplification and chemical traceability in plastics

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