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Ending the ‘love affair’ with plastics

‘Plastics are inherently incompatible with a circular economy,’ urges Greenpeace in a new report highlighting that recycled plastics ‘often contain more toxic chemicals’.

The statement comes at a time when global industry stakeholders and politicians are discussing how to fight plastics pollution at a UN conference in Paris. ‘We want an ambitious, legally binding Global Plastics Treaty that accelerates and provides the conditions needed for a just transition away from dependence on plastic,’ Greenpeace notes.

The issues with plastics is that they are made with as many as 13 000 chemicals, and researchers say 3 200 of these are chemicals of concern. ‘Many more have never been assessed and may also be toxic,’ Greenpeace alleges. ‘While virgin plastics contain unknown and untested harmful chemicals, studies show that recycled plastics often contain higher levels of chemicals.’

It contends that the upcoming treaty should promote safer, toxics-free materials and reuse-based, zero-waste economies, creating new jobs to support these practices. The organisation goes on to state that plastic recycling plants should be regulated as facilities that handle hazardous waste and like contaminated sites that release hazardous chemicals.

The report cites a survey in the US and Canada in 2022 found a record 390 fires in plastic recycling and waste facilities. Another report from Turkey noted that the number of fires at plastic recycling facilities in that country increased from 33 in 2019 to 121 in 2021, one every three days.

Looking ahead, plastic production is forecast to triple by 2060, with only a ‘minimal increase’ in recycling predicted. As such, it’s time to ‘end the love affair with recycled plastic content’, Greenpeace argues. Instead, it recommends:

  • Promoting non-combustion technologies for plastic stockpiles and waste disposal
  • Prioritising waste pickers who collect approximately 60% of all plastic that is collected for recycling globally.
  • Enforcing the “polluter pays” principle throughout the product’s life cycle
  • Improving regulation, oversight, safety and worker protections for existing recycling facilities
  • Optimising transparency about chemicals in plastics and eliminate all toxic additives and chemicals used in the plastics life cycle

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