Pass on “Plastic Grass”: Why Natural Options Win Over Synthetic Turf

As people living in the Western US endure a historic 22-year “Megadrought” — with 2022 proving to be the driest year on record, many individuals and communities are replacing grasses and plants with synthetic “plastic grass.” With state, county, and local governments in places like California and Nevada implementing strict water conservation policies, prohibiting most people from watering their lawns, fake grass may seem like a good idea. But, when we take a look at the science and substance of synthetic turf, a toxic truth unfolds.

As the climate crisis fuels more frequent and severe droughts in the Western US and other arid regions globally, synthetic turf manufacturers are increasingly marketing artificial grasses as more aesthetically pleasing, low-maintenance, and drought-friendly than natural grass. Many school districts, universities, municipalities, sports leagues, businesses, and homeowners are falling for industry marketing and are installing synthetic turf—which companies claim “doesn’t need watering” to look green—at rapid rates. 

But as synthetic turf becomes more ubiquitous, scientific data and stories shared by the public show us it is not the environmentally friendly alternative to traditional grass it’s being sold as. In fact, synthetic turf is a serious hazard to our environment and in turn, our health—especially the health of children who are most commonly playing on these “fake fields.”

Let’s take a look at the full toxic toll of synthetic turf—and what nontoxic solutions we should be using instead.

What is Synthetic Turf?

Many kinds of synthetic turf fields have been built indoors and outdoors since first being introduced in the 1960s, popularized and normalized in part by their widespread use by many major-league sports associations like the NFL (National Football League).

Most commonly, synthetic turf is built by layering various kinds of plastics with polyurethane adhesives on top of a bed of gravel (which provides drainage). These plastic layers may include a combination of: 

  • weed-preventing sheeting made of polyester or polypropylene;
  • a spongy “pad” made of poured rubber and polyurethane adhesive;
  • a layer of acrylic resin—into which plastic fibers like nylon, polypropylene, or polyethylene are assembled to resemble grass; and
  • a top layer of so-called “infill,” often a mix of sand and toxic styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR), also known as “crumb rubber,” which is commonly made from shredding old vehicle tires.

Thus, a more accurate description of synthetic turf would be “plastic grass.” These materials are advertised by producers as more environmentally friendly because they don’t require water like organic plants do in order to keep their healthy green sheen. If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Synthetic Turf Exposed

Synthetic Turf Costs More Than Natural Grass

“Synthetic turf costs more to install, almost as much to maintain, and has to be replaced once it wears out,” according to Safe Healthy Playing Fields, Inc., an advocacy organization that sheds light on the health and financial costs of synthetic turf compared to natural grass.

The costs of installing synthetic turf can be as high as a million dollars for municipal and institutional applications such as playing fields and parks. Homeowners may pay many thousands of dollars to cover their yards in plastic grass, much more than the cost of planting and maintaining natural grass. And synthetic turf fields’ constant degradation necessitates its costly replacement every decade or so with entirely new synthetic turf.

During the California drought of 2011-2019, many synthetic turf companies descended into towns, school boards, and city council meetings with slick presentations making promises of lower water and maintenance costs and coming up with bids that magically matched their budgets. As an ecological landscaper at the time, who defended natural drought-tolerant well designed and maintained fields, I personally witnessed a few of these presentations for a nearby middle school in my hometown of Santa Cruz, CA. I equated these representatives with their proposals and promises to snake-oil salesmen that often preyed upon people’s misfortune. Most often these companies were from out-of-state, and preyed upon our local governments and school districts in their time of need and were able to successfully secure rebates to incentivize homeowners, schools and public fields to switch from natural turf to plastic grass.”

– Jackie Nuñez, Founder of The Last Plastic Straw 

Synthetic Turf Sheds Microplastics, PFAS, and Other Chemicals

Like all plastic materials, synthetic turf doesn’t last forever—instead, it breaks up and sheds massive amounts of tiny plastic particles into the environment and our bodies. A 2018 report by the European Commission showed that athletic fields composed of synthetic turf shed an annual average of 18,000-70,000 tons of microplastics each year into surrounding air, soils, and waters. This includes huge quantities of crumb rubber, which leaches toxic lead, PFAS, phthalates, and other dangerous chemicals. People and other animals who walk and play on synthetic turf absorb plastic particles and their toxins through the skin, inhalation, and ingestion.

A 2019 study by the EPA acknowledged the presence of toxic chemicals in synthetic turf. Chemicals like PFAS, which are used to harden the blades of grass, have been found by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and The Ecology Center. PFAS are chemicals that do not break down in the environment or the human body and have been associated with diseases like cancer and birth defects and pregnancy complications. Detectable levels of lead, a neurotoxin especially toxic to children, have been found in synthetic turf, due to lead-based pigments being used to give plastic grass the illusion of its healthy green luster. Synthetic turf is also a contributor to climate change, as the production of a 2-acre artificial turf field generates 55.6 tons of CO2.

Synthetic Turf Wastes and Contaminates Water

Ironically, synthetic turf still requires regular watering, especially on hot days where it can heat up to 40-70 times hotter than the surrounding air—getting even hotter than asphalt. This is because unlike real organic, cooling, and oxygenating grass, synthetic turf is heat absorbent. The temperatures of plastic grass can get so hot it has been known to cause contact injuries called “turf burn.” Heated synthetic turf has also been found to release toxic gases, including carcinogenic benzene and formaldehyde.

Synthetic turf manufacturers market their products as being designed to provide drainage. However, materials experts report major drainage issues linked to plastic grass. These issues worsen droughts by preventing groundwater—which many people depend on for drinking—from naturally recharging. When rain falls onto synthetic turf, research shows it absorbs chemicals and runs off—typically entering stormwater systems that drain to large water bodies like lakes and oceans. The city of Millbrae, California, last year extended a 45-day moratorium on installing synthetic turf to one year after the City Council raised concerns about plastic grass’s lack of permeability, toxicity, and other related water loss and contamination issues.

Natural Options Are the Clear Winner

Individuals and governmental bodies needn’t turn to polluting plastic grass in the face of historic droughts, in California or anywhere else. Many species of natural grasses such as bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescues make for strong turf requiring little need for watering and no need for replacement. There is also a growing trend to replace the traditional “green” lawn with edible gardens, as well as native-plant gardens that attract butterflies and other pollinators, supporting healthy ecosystems that are necessary for us to grow food plants. These natural landscapes can also help restore wildlife corridors and migration paths that have been disrupted by the “concrete jungles” of highways, cities, and subdivisions.

Proper care of natural grasses, avoidance of toxic fertilizers, and reduction of water waste—such as preventing irrigation runoff and repairing leaky irrigation pipes—will also help us get through droughts while minimizing our impact on the planet and our health.

Like many sustainable and healthy options which are supplanted needlessly by toxic plastic alternatives, oxygenating, natural grass is being replaced across the U.S. by synthetic turf fields, creating more pollution, and a host of unnecessary injuries and other impacts.

When one peels back the layers of synthetic turf, its costly, toxic truths become easier to see. Don’t be fooled by the synthetic turf industry’s greenwashing: It’s best for nature and our health to replace lawns with natural and native drought-tolerant wildflowers and other plants. But when we do choose to create lawns or playing fields, the best option remains drought-tolerant, organic, natural grass.

October 21, 2021 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm

Plastic Health Summit

Plastic Health Summit focuses on how the presence of microplastics and chemical additives in the environment is affecting our health. This event brings together all stakeholders involved, from scientists and policymakers to politicians, citizens, influencers, NGOs, industry and innovators to collaboratively work towards a Healthy Future for All.

The following is a Q&A with author Erica Cirino following the release of her new book, Thicker Than Water: The Quest For Solutions To The Plastics Crisis.

Erica Cirino is a science writer and artist exploring the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds. Her widely published photojournalistic works depict the numerous ways people connect to nature—wild creatures in particular—and shape planet Earth. In her recent book, Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis (published by Island Press, October 2021), Erica documents plastic across ecosystems and elements; shares stories from the primarily Black, Brown, Indigenous and rural communities that are disproportionately harmed by industrial pollution; and uncovers strategies to prevent plastic from causing further devastation to the planet and its inhabitants. She lives with her rescued street dog, Sabi, on and between two shores, Long Island and Connecticut.

1. How did you first become aware of the plastic pollution global crisis?

When I was 15, I got a job as an assistant at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic on Long Island, New York. The job involved rescuing and providing medical and rehabilitative care to sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife brought to us by the public. I observed that virtually all of the animals—hawks, owls, opossums, turtles, squirrels, and others—who turned up in our hands had been harmed by human actions, systems, and infrastructure—window collisions, pesticide poisoning, car strikes, cat and dog attacks, den or nest destruction. Our widespread use of plastic is a huge hazard for wildlife, and a common reason for animals to come into rehabilitative care. I’ve helped untangle countless creatures from plastic fishing line, from soccer nets; pulled balloon strings off talons; removed rubber fishing lures from throats. Being familiar with wildlife and being a person who has spent a lot of time outdoors, I was probably 16 or so when I connected the growing amount of plastic around me and the growing number of plastic injuries and fatalities I observed in my rehabilitation work to symptoms of a larger problem—the plastic crisis, and humanity’s unrestrained and unquestioning use of this single material. Around that time I also began to notice the connection between the rise in plastic and an uptick in human consumption of all kinds, and how that benefitted some but overwhelmingly harmed people and the planet. My perception of the world’s increasing lack of balance and equality and its cause—humanity—has deeply worried me from an early age.

2. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a mantra that has existed in the American Zeitgeist for over four decades. Often, when the plastics crisis is mentioned, two things seem to happen in quick succession: 1) People acknowledge the crisis and share their concerns about it. 2) People then mention how they take great care to recycle all the plastic they purchase.
Given how deeply the perception of recycling as a solution has become embedded in our culture, how can we rewrite the narrative to focus on the root causes of plastic pollution?

As you suggest, most people generally want to “do the right thing” when it comes to coping with plastic waste—i.e. preventing the plastic they use from turning up as litter. However, when we consider recycling, it’s important to look at a few key facts: 

First, look at the serious failure of recycling to date: Just a tiny fraction—about 9 percent—of the more than 8.3 billion metric tons of petrochemical-based plastic humans have created since the mid-1900s has actually been recycled. Regional recycling rates around the world presently span from nonexistent to poor, with some countries claiming their exported garbage will be recycled only to end up exchanged as part of the global waste trade—and ultimately, dumped or burned elsewhere, harming human and ecological health. Why? It’s not very easy to recycle plastic, a term that encompasses a great many different types of petrochemical-based polymers that vary in appearance and chemical composition. A Styrofoam cup is made of a different type of plastic than a plastic bag, for example. So these common plastic items need to be recycled separately—except not every municipality has the technology or staff to sort and recycle every type of plastic. And lots of plastic stuff gets contaminated with use, particularly packaging. Items made of multiple types of plastic become even harder to recycle. Many plastics weaken as they are heated and recycled, so it’s common to add chemical additives and even fresh plastic to batches of what little gets recycled. 

For decades, trade associations linked to the various parts of the plastic supply chain—petrochemical companies, manufacturers, transporters, waste managers, and others—have cemented a recycling ethic into the consciousness of people living first in America and in Europe, and now virtually all around the world. The groups hired PR teams to handle their pro-recycling messaging, a brilliant marketing scheme when you think about it, because it allowed corporations to continue making more and more plastic while making it seem plastic had a place when it met the end of its life. Members of the trade groups, which include major consumer brands, formed seemingly pro-environmental nonprofit organizations with names like Keep America Beautiful and The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which reinforced the trade groups’ pro-recycling messaging. The industry-backed, highly visible, pro-recycling advertising campaigns placed responsibility for coping with plastic waste, and preventing pollution, squarely on the shoulders of the public.

This, despite the simple fact that when it comes to plastic waste, there’s no such place as away. Plastic, unlike many other materials humans consume, does not benignly biodegrade, to our knowledge today. In fact, its presence throughout air, water, soil, space; in plants; and inside the bodies of animals, including humans, demonstrates its endurance. Instead of breaking down, it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces that are capable of being ingested, absorbed, or inhaled by living beings; and are packed with chemicals, many of which are known to harm human health.

I know the answer to this question is getting a bit long, but it needs thorough explanation. We need thorough explanation. How else do we recover from being brainwashed, except by learning the truth? What’s needed right now is accountability from companies dealing in fossil fuels, petrochemicals, and plastic, and those businesses that support the plastic and plastic waste pipelines. The trade groups continue to push the recycling narrative (pushing for “advanced” or chemical recycling, which to date has been largely ineffective) despite the truth being out there, their history brought to light by grassroots groups, communities, and individuals all over the world. The truth is that today, recycling is far from enough to solve the problem. 

3. Thicker Than Water explores how communities of color worldwide bear the brunt of the harmful effects of plastic—both during production and after disposal. How can activists bring attention about this issue to those who have the voting power to effect meaningful change, but for whom plastic doesn’t perceivably present immediate harm?

It’s essential that all people understand that plastic and other industries both profit off and reinforce systemic racism—and we must decide we will no longer tolerate this mistreatment and blatant inequality in our society. People who do not live in communities disproportionately harmed can best help by educating themselves and acting as allies. Recent pushes for racial equality in the US and abroad, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, reiterate that it is long past time for justice of all kinds to be served to Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Such communities disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution at all points of the plastic pipeline, and are quite literally fighting for their lives. These are everyday people, busy with families and jobs, and on top of that, they must stay vigilant, pressing to hold the stakeholders involved in the plastic crisis accountable: corporations, municipalities, contractors, businesses, government officials. These communities must be prioritized and involved in efforts to address the plastic crisis, such as a transition to zero-waste communities and legal protection against environmental injustice, such as new regulations on industrial zoning and emissions that keep additional health risks out of communities of color. 

As you might imagine, it is so much work. To become an ally, ask communities how you can help. Listen to their needs. Educate yourself on what environmental racism and systemic racism are, and why justice must be served immediately. Spread the word. Be involved in your own community. Talk to your neighbors. Showing up to hearings, contacting your representatives, and voting for individuals who represent the best interests of people and the planet are some useful ways to make your voice heard.

4. Let’s assume for a moment that all plastic production ends tomorrow. We would still have a massive ecological disaster on our hands with the amount of plastic left in landfills, the oceans, and waterways; heading for incinerators; as well as the microplastics already in the air and water. What, in your opinion, can be done with this plastic pollution without further contributing to the problem?

As Kristian Syberg, a Danish microplastic expert, told me in the Garbage Patch as we looked out on waves full of plastic, the microplastic and nanoplastic problem will undoubtedly grow as all the plastic that’s been made breaks apart. I imagine efforts to remove plastic from the natural environment will become more widespread; though at this point most experts emphasize we must first focus on “turning off the tap”—or stop new plastic production—rather than launch a large-scale cleanup. It’s very hard to collect micro- and nanoplastic particles from the elements all around us, so the sooner we stop making more plastic the better.

Right now there’s a free and hugely available material resource all around us: plastic. But plastic in nature commonly becomes weathered and contaminated with chemicals, viruses, or bacteria. Algae may grow on it. Can plastic in nature be collected, sufficiently cleaned, and actually fully recycled at some point in the near future? Should we even be using plastic, even if it’s fully recycled, if it inherently breaks up into impossibly small, impossibly hard-to-collect particles all around us, and may contain hazardous chemicals? I myself do not have the answers as to what could be done with the plastic all around us. If we are to reuse it, which is probably the smartest thing we could do, it must be reused in ways that do not further endanger human or ecological health. At the same time, research must be done to understand the long-term effects that the widespread distribution of increasingly tiny plastic particles have on human and ecological health, with special attention on communities facing environmental injustice. 

5. Throughout your journey writing Thicker Than Water, what inspired you about how communities around the world have come together to address the plastic pollution issue in their own backyards?

From organizing beach cleanups, to carrying out waste audits, to testifying at town hearings, and so much more, I have seen that community actions to address the plastic crisis can take many shapes. And this is, to me, the most inspiring thing about it. There are no barriers to being a part of the solution; people are finding so many ways to participate and implement positive change. We can make the biggest impacts by coming together. While each community’s focus and motivation might be slightly different, all of these actions do together address the plastic crisis, and they all are needed. What else is needed, however, are major systemic shifts that can support these local solutions, and the ultimate solution: stopping petrochemical corporations’ continued production of new plastic stuff and transitioning away from fossil fuel–based lifestyles. 

6. Lastly, what gives you hope for the future, and what can people do now—either by supporting certain legislation or adopting meaningful changes in their own lives—to really make a difference towards affecting meaningful change domestically and worldwide?

What I’ve come to understand about solutions during five years is summed up in one moment I experienced at sea: When I sailed the Atlantic with eXXpedition, an amazing organization founded by skipper and ocean advocate Emily Penn, somewhere between the Azores and Antigua, the crew came together in the saloon to consider solutions to the plastic crisis. We wrote our ideas on little slips of paper, and assembled them across the big table. Cleanups, industrial regulations, transitioning off fossil fuels, biodegradable materials, zero-waste solutions, the circular economy, education, taxes, bans, lawsuits, environmental justice…we came up with dozens of ways we’d seen individuals, businesses, communities and government officials take aim at the plastic crisis. 

What’s lacking, generally, is a global and collective synthesis of these efforts—but that is not out of reach. That the plastic tide already seems to be turning, with so much action now underway and more communities than ever searching for solutions, I feel hopeful big, necessary change could come. It must come, for so many reasons. There is much to accomplish, but also so much we can do if we work together. 

Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisisis available from Island Press. Visit www.islandpress.org and use code PPC25 for 25% off all books.

You can also sign up for the October 20 webinar featuring Erica Cirino, along with Dr. Kerim Odekon, Microplastics Researcher & Environmental Justice Advocate, Stony Brook University, New York, USA; and Dr. Sedat Gündoğdu, Associate Professor, Microplastic Research Group, Faculty of Fisheries, University of Cukurova, Turkey.

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) and parties to several global environmental instruments have taken an interest in plastic pollution, especially marine plastic litter and microplastics, recognising it as a serious and rapidly growing issue of global concern which requires an urgent and global response.

Following UNEA3 and UNEA4, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) formed an Ad-Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group (AHOEEG) of member states, industry representatives, and civil society experts to analyze information and present options to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics. Updates have previously been reported from the 1st and 2nd meetings, and the Expert Group met for the 3rd time 18 – 22 November 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand.

Members of the #breakfreefromplastic movement and broader civil society have been active through UNEAs and the AHOEEG meetings to prioritize the urgency of the global plastic crisis and its harms across the full supply chain and life cycle. The more than 2,000 member organizations of #breakfreefromplastic worldwide have endorsed the pursuit of a new legally binding global governance structure for plastics, based on a four-pillar strategy.

Dozens of delegates, scientists, and other experts met (Nov 18-22) to plan a process for taking stock of activities underway around the world to curb plastic discharge into the world’s oceans and identifying the gaps of coverage in those activities. After five days of discussion, the path forward will be complicated but experts remain optimistic that an aggressive work schedule through 2020 will lead to global action on this urgent issue.

Read the full update, via CIEL and Break Free From Plastic.

Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5 mm) have gained global attention as a pervasive and preventable threat to the health of aquatic ecosystems. To develop critical baseline data and inform solutions, The 5 Gyres Institute and the San Francisco Estuary Institute embarked on a three-year collaborative project to complete the first comprehensive study of microplastic pollution of a major urban estuary and the adjacent marine sanctuaries. Read the report.

The San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project was designed to provide critical data on sources and pathways of microplastics in the Bay Area, and generate scientifically supported, regional recommendations for solutions to plastic pollution. The project brings together numerous stakeholders and partners to build momentum around plastic pollution solutions in California.

Visit 5 Gyres to learn more.

UNEA-4 Agreement Does Not Deliver at Scale and Urgency Needed

Nairobi, Kenya – At the 4th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), member states of the UN Environment Programme failed to meet expectations to confront the ever-growing plastic-pollution crisis threatening our waterways, ecosystems, and health.

At UNEA-4, member states considered several resolutions designed to increase international action to halt plastic pollution. The first, proposed by Norway, Japan, and Sri Lanka, sought to strengthen international cooperation and coordination on marine plastic litter and microplastics, including through considering a possible new legally binding agreement. The second, proposed by India, sought to promote the phase-out single-use plastics worldwide.

Despite sweeping agreement by the majority of countries that urgent, ambitious, and global action is needed to address plastic across its lifecycle – from production to use to disposal – a small minority led by the United States (US) blocked ambitious text and delayed negotiations. Backed by a strong industry lobby with over $200 billion invested in petrochemical buildout to drastically expand plastic production, the US delegation was able to thwart progress and water down the resolutions, actions that were strongly opposed by many countries, including those most affected by plastic pollution, such as the Pacific Island States, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Senegal. Action-oriented member states did secure, however, the basic elements that will allow the building of future actions, based on the common vision that emerged among the vast majority of countries during the discussions. Most importantly, the mandate of the expert working group established at UNEA-3 was extended to continue its work, including by identifying technical and financial resources or mechanisms, and to report on its progress in considering response options at UNEA-5 in February 2021. The extension of this mandate keeps plastic on the international agenda and provides an opportunity to consider a future legally binding agreement. 

Despite the overall disappointing outcome in not making progress at the speed and scale needed, countries remain committed to pursuing international cooperation and coordination to address the plastic-pollution crisis.

David Azoulay, Environmental Health Director, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL): “At UNEA-4, the vast majority of countries came together to develop a vision for the future of global plastic governance. Seeing the US, guided by the interests of the fracking and petrochemical industry, leading efforts to sabotage that vision is disheartening. But the growing appetite for better global plastic governance is evident, and this UNEA ensured the continuation of a process on which countries can build the future global framework to stop plastic pollution.”

Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, Break Free From Plastic: “Corporations should hear the call coming out of UNEA-4: Requirements for reduction are coming. They should support community zero-waste systems around the world by reducing the production of unmanageable waste and reinventing delivery structures for products to eliminate plastic packaging. We have a lot of collaborative work to do in the coming years to create policies and markets that are healthy, responsive to local needs, and based on systems of refill and reuse.” 

Christopher Chin, Executive Director of The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE): “Waste management is an important part of the conversation, but it cannot effectively address the deluge of plastic pollution we all face. We cannot recycle our way out of this problem. While we are certainly disappointed that progress was stifled by industry-embracing obstacles imposed by a distinct few member states, we are encouraged by the otherwise near-universal support for forward action towards upstream solutions and discussions towards solutions considering the full lifecycle of plastics, including a potential new legally binding framework.” 

Fabienne McLellan, Director International Relations, OceanCare: “One cannot help but note that we are heading for yet another failure by some governments to take real action due to nationalistic agendas. The problem is easy to understand, there is enough data, but the blockade of a few, powerful countries isn’t. We are leaving UNEA-4 without a strong decision and are sending a weak signal to the private sector. This is troubling as there should be clear guidance from international bodies towards a sustainable circular economy, a full lifecycle approach, and a call for a global governance architecture.”

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Zero Waste Europe: “The need to confront marine plastic pollution and single-use plastics are undeniably at the top of the global policy agenda, and Zero Waste initiatives at the local level have received recognition. The details of the final resolutions may be weak, but governments have real policy examples to follow, including the recently-adopted EU Directive on single-use plastics and bans on wasteful plastic products at the local and national level. These policies address the production and consumption drivers of plastic pollution. We salute the efforts of the countries and regions who stood strong in this debate in seeking equally ambitious action at the global level.” 

Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA): “Future generations will confront many indescribable problems due to a lack of political will to tackle head on the environmental issues of our time. We do not need to add plastic pollution to that list. Although we regret the lack of urgency displayed by a few bad-faith actors, we are encouraged that the expert group will be reconvened and expect progressive countries to use it as a launch pad for meaningful action at the next UNEA in February 2021.”

Tadesse Amera, CoChair, International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), Ethiopia: “As the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries are gearing up to escalate plastic and chemical production, governments at UNEA-4 could not curb the power of these private interests. This is concerning as the volume of plastic pollution will grow too. Plastics are toxic. Toxic chemicals -linked to cancer and early puberty in children- are used to make plastics, yet this issue was neglected in the final UNEA-4 outcome. These toxic chemicals additives in plastic are released later, creating toxic liabilities for chemical and plastic producers. In Africa, imported plastic products and plastic waste should be returned back to the producers to protect us from the toxic chemicals in the plastic materials. The industries producing these harmful chemicals should have an extended producer responsibility, and they should pay the costs related to their toxic plastic waste mess. In the big picture, toxics in means toxics out. We can’t recycle toxic plastics and pretend that the marine litter chaos is a waste issues; it’s a toxic product issue.”

Jane Patton, Director, No Waste Louisiana: “Plastic is pollution the minute it is made. We must reduce the production and use of plastic across the board to protect communities and health. No people or places should be sacrificed to corporate profit or a culture of consumption, and we can avoid that by taking into account the full lifecycle impacts of plas
tics. We are optimistic about the ambitious steps our governments will take to prevent plastic pollution, including production reduction, phase out, and investment in zero-waste systems.”

David Sutasurya, Indonesian Zero Waste Alliance: “The plastic industry is polluting developing countries, where they have fewer options of non-plastic alternatives and are directly exposed to plastic pollution every day. Multinational corporations have systematically pushed out local industry that uses much less plastic, in addition to facilitating the import of waste into developing countries from the high-consumption Global North. It is unfair that developing countries are using taxpayers’ money to manage these wastes that can neither be recycled or composted. Framing marine litter as only a waste management problem is nonsense when it’s actually a reflection of the industry’s refusal to take responsibility on the plastic pollution crisis. Multinational companies, together with national plastic industries, are now actively blocking any government effort to hold them accountable and responsible for the waste of their product, including significant reduction of its uses. Developed countries and industries have to be responsible for the waste problem that they create in developing countries and should support legally binding measures on reduction of global plastic production and consumption.”