A dataset of organic pollutants identified and quantified in recycled polyethylene pellets

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Scientists chemically analyze 28 samples of recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE) collected from across regions of the Global South, along with a fresh sample of new HDPE. Their research shows the prevalence of certain chemicals commonly used in processing HDPE increase in recycled plastic, as well as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, and other plastic additives.

Abstract: Plastics are produced with a staggering array of chemical compounds, with many being known to possess hazardous properties, and others lacking comprehensive hazard data. Furthermore, non-intentionally added substances can contaminate plastics at various stages of their lifecycle, resulting in recycled materials containing an unknown number of chemical compounds at unknown concentrations. While some national and regional regulations exist for permissible concentrations of hazardous chemicals in specific plastic products, less than 1 % of plastics chemicals are subject to international regulation [1]. There are currently no policies mandating transparent reporting of chemicals throughout the plastics value chain or comprehensive monitoring of chemicals in recycled materials.

The dataset presented here provides the chemical analysis of 28 samples of recycled High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pellets obtained from various regions of the Global South, along with a reference sample of virgin HDPE. The analysis comprises both Target and Non-Targeted Screening approaches, employing Liquid Chromatography-High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (LC-HRMS) and Gas Chromatography-High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (GC-HRMS). In total, 491 organic compounds were detected and quantified, with an additional 170 compounds tentatively annotated. These compounds span various classes, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, plastic additives.

The results highlight the prevalence of certain chemicals, such as N-ethyl-o-Toluesulfonamide, commonly used in HDPE processing, found in high concentrations. The paper provides a dataset advancing knowledge of the complex chemical composition associated with recycled plastics.

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