Report urges nations to classify some plastics as hazardous
Less than half of the 280 million metric tons of plastic produced each year ends up in the landfill. A fair bit of the rest ends up littering the landscape, blown by the wind or washed down streams and rivers into the sea.
So far Americans spend $520 million a year to clean up plastic litter washing up on beaches and shorelines. Efforts to clean up the oceans' enormous swirling gyres of garbage has an incalculable cost. Thus, much of the focus has been on how to stop the river of trash from entering the ocean.
A team of 10 scientists has come up with an idea of how to make that happen: reclassify the most harmful plastic waste as hazardous material. That simple adjustment, the scientists write in the journal Nature, could trigger sweeping changes in how environmental agencies clean up plastic waste, spur innovation in polymer research and replace problematic plastics with safer ones.
The United States, Europe, Japan and other nations classify plastic as solid waste, treating their disposal much like food scraps or grass clippings, said Mark Anthony Browne, a co-author of the article. It's an outdated view that plastics are inert, he said, ignoring scientific evidence in recent years — including the work of co-author and doctoral student Chelsea M. Rochman — that plastic debris is laden with highly toxic pollutants.
As plastic breaks down into microscopic fibers and specks, it can be inhaled or ingested by humans and wildlife. One study found that such microscopic fibers were present in human lung cancers. Seabirds that have consumed plastic waste have 300 percent greater concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their tissues than other birds.
Governments have struggled to reduce plastic marine debris, with 134 nations banning the dumping of plastics by international convention in 1988. Yet it seems to have made little difference.
So the authors modeled their proposal after what has been arguably the most successful international environmental agreement in history: The classification of refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, as hazardous under the Montreal Protocol in 1989. Production of CFCs, which were burning a hole in the atmosphere's protective ozone layer, stopped within seven years, and nearly 200 countries replaced 30 dangerous chemical groups with safer ones.
Rochman believes the same thing can happen if major plastic-producing nations were to take the first step of going after four types of plastics that are made of the most potentially toxic materials and are particularly difficult to recycle.
On the short list are: polyvinylchloride, or PVC, used in making plastic pipes; polystyrene, often known as Styrofoam and used in cups and clam-shell food containers; polyurethane, used in making furniture and car seats; and polycarbonate, a hard plastic used in making baby bottles, electronics and appliances.
“We feel,” the scientists write, “that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste — the United States, Europe and China — must act now.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Ferguson slaying of Brown reconstructed in county autopsy
- Man caught jumping White House fence
- Coast Guard to seek billions to protect Arctic interests
- Biden’s son Hunter under no bar review after Navy Reserve discharge for cocaine use
- 4 private security guards convicted
- Security at Capitol questioned
- 8 arrested in post-game riots in Morgantown
- Social Security recipients to get increase in benefits
- Coburn’s final ‘Wastebook’ tallies $25B in what he considers ‘pork’
- Personal use of Secret Service agents on staffer’s behalf draws investigaton
- Academic scandal at University of North Carolina bigger than previously reported