Ahead of the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Paris, on May 29 to June 2, Greenpeace raised the alarm saying that recycling plastics increases its toxicity. Based on a peer-reviewed study, the environmental group claims that the only solution to fix plastic pollution is to “cap and phase down plastic production”.
1. Hazardous chemicals
The peer-reviewed study, “Forever Toxic: The science of health threats from plastic recycling”, notes that, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), plastics contain more than 13,000 chemicals, with more than 3,200 of them known to be hazardous to human health. The report further highlights the threat that recycled plastics pose to the health of consumers, frontline communities, and workers in the recycling sector.
“The plastics industry — including fossil fuel, petrochemical, and consumer goods companies — continues to put forward plastic recycling as the solution to the plastic pollution crisis. But this report shows that the toxicity of plastic actually increases with recycling,” said Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Campaign Lead at Greenpeace USA.
Dr. Therese Karlsson, Science Advisor with the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) explained that plastics are made with toxic chemicals and these substances don’t simply go away when plastics are recycled.
The science clearly shows that plastic recycling is a toxic endeavor with threats to our health and the environment all along the recycling stream.Dr. Therese Karlsson, Science Advisor with the IPEN
2. ”No place in a circular economy”
According to the UNEP, less than 9% of plastic is recycled globally, a staggering fact that puts pressure on governments and societies across the globe to urgently reduce the production and consumption of plastics. “Plastics have no place in a circular economy and it’s clear that the only real solution to ending plastic pollution is to massively reduce plastic production,” explained Forbes.
3. Low-income communities foot the bill
Plastic production, disposal, and incineration facilities are most often located in low-income, marginalized communities across the world, Greenpeace condemned, saying these people end up suffering from higher rates of cancer, lung disease and adverse birth outcomes associated with their exposure to the toxic chemicals. The environmental group argues that discussions around the upcoming Treaty should take marginalized waste pickers into account, including others involved in the hazardous process of plastics’ recycling.
The Treaty should generate opportunities for workers to leave polluting and toxic industries for healthier jobs in a reuse-based economy.Greenpeace
Jo Banner, activist for The Descendants Project and based in the Mississippi River, region of Louisiana, said plastics recycling only perpetuates health hazards and impoverishes already low-income communities.
“My region is now known as “Cancer Alley” for the extreme risks of cancer and death due to pollution from plastic producing industries. We are calling on world leaders to negotiate a global plastics treaty that ends plastic production, protects communities like ours and supports a just transition for workers across the plastics supply chain,” urged Banner.