Chemical simplification and tracking in plastics

Plastic pollution experts make a case for addressing toxic additives, unintentionally added substances, and contaminants in plastics. They point out that current regulations fail to require plastic producers to track or make available information on harmful chemicals in plastics. For these reasons, the experts say that before recycling can be considered as part of the approach to end plastic pollution, especially if it becomes part of the UN Plastics Treaty, plastic’ chemicals must be simplified through a major reduction of the expansive amount of chemicals used in plastics production.

Lead has been detected in a wide range of consumer products, including those made of or with plastic. As plastics are recycled, toxic lead is transferred into new consumer products and pollutes human bodies and the environment. Scientists propose that plastic pollution be classified as hazardous depending on its lead content and according to existing regulations on consumer plastics.

Abstract: X-ray fluorescence spectrometry has been employed to measure Pb in a wide range of consumer and environmental plastics, including food-packaging material, household goods, electronic casings, beach litter and agricultural waste. Results reveal high concentrations of Pb (>1000 mg kg−1) in historical items that are still in use or circulation (e.g. toys, construction plastics, wiring insulation) and variable, but generally lower concentrations in more recently manufactured articles. Analysis of Br, Cl and Cr, proxies for brominated flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and chromate pigments, respectively, suggests that as historical material is recycled, Pb from electronic plastics and pigments, but not PVC, is dispersed into a variety of newer products. Although most cases in the consumer sector comply with relevant EU Directives, some products that are non-compliant highlight shortfalls in regulations where recycling is involved and potential problems arising from the direct fashioning of industrial plastics into new consumer goods through attempts to be environmentally positive. The uncontrolled loss of historical and recycled plastics has also resulted in Pb contamination of the environment. Here, it is proposed that litter can be classified as hazardous depending on its Pb content and according to existing regulations that embrace consumer plastics.

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.

The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown is published as the world confronts profound and concurrent systemic shocks. Countries and health systems continue to contend with the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a persistent fossil fuel overdependence has pushed the world into global energy and cost-of-living crises. As these crises unfold, climate change escalates unabated. Its worsening impacts are increasingly affecting the foundations of human health and wellbeing, exacerbating the vulnerability of the world’s populations to concurrent health threats. In this report, experts discuss how fossil fuel dependence undermines global human and planetary health and wellbeing in myriad ways.

The Society of Environmental Journalists has published a tip sheet for reporters and news media covering waste incineration, plastic pollution, and related issues. Incineration is not a safe nor healthy way to cope with waste, especially plastics. Get key information on incineration to boost your journalistic practice in this tip sheet.

As human impact on Earth continues to increase, scientists have tracked the changes and monitor the health of the planet. Unfortunately, scientists have found that humans have pushed Earth outside of the safe operating space for the long-term survival of our species. Human use of fossil fuels and human destruction of biodiversity lie at the core of the damage being done—and threat to all.

Abstract: This planetary boundaries framework update finds that six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity. Ocean acidification is close to being breached, while aerosol loading regionally exceeds the boundary. Stratospheric ozone levels have slightly recovered. The transgression level has increased for all boundaries earlier identified as overstepped. As primary production drives Earth system biosphere functions, human appropriation of net primary production is proposed as a control variable for functional biosphere integrity. This boundary is also transgressed. Earth system modeling of different levels of the transgression of the climate and land system change boundaries illustrates that these anthropogenic impacts on Earth system must be considered in a systemic context.