Recycling plastic increases its “toxicity” and will not end pollution – Greenpeace


Plastic pollution

Greenpeace report claims it will be “impossible” to end plastic pollution and eliminate chemicals in plastics without reducing plastic production.

Plastics are “inherently incompatible” with a circular economy, Greenpeace has warned ahead of the latest round of Global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Paris between 29 May and 2 June. Greenpeace has also urged for any agreed Treaty to cap and reduce plastic production, and establish a pathway to end virgin plastic production.

The new Greenpeace report, Forever Toxic: The science of health threats from plastic recycling, says that most plastics collected for recycling are “never recycled”, citing a UN Environmental Programme report which found that plastic recycling rates are less than 10%. When plastics are recycled, the report also claims they contain a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals that make them unfit for food-grade and other consumer uses.

The report aggregates peer-reviewed research and international studies and highlights three ways recycled plastic materials accumulate toxic chemicals: direct contamination from toxic chemicals in virgin plastic, leaching of toxic substances into plastic waste and new toxic chemicals created by the recycling process.

We hope the treaty will recognise the vital role the waste and resources sector plays in keeping materials in circulation.

Reacting to the announcement, Lee Marshall, Policy and External Affairs Director, CIWM, said: “CIWM notes the publication of Greenpeace’s report ahead of next week’s second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Paris (INC-2) to develop the UN Plastics Treaty –  an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

“CIWM fully supports the concept of a UN treaty as a means to end plastic pollution by promoting better use of scarce resources and helping us move towards a circular economy and a world beyond waste.

“We hope the treaty will recognise the vital role the waste and resources sector plays in keeping materials in circulation and how sound waste management principles are essential to avoid pollution. Irrespective of what material is used, resources are a precious commodity and the principles of the plastic treaty will also be relevant to other material types.”

Commenting on the report, Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Campaign Lead at Greenpeace USA, said: “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. 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.”

Plastic pollution
Plastics are “inherently incompatible” with a circular economy, Greenpeace claims.

In the lead-up to the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, over 100 scientists and civil society groups issued a letter urging the UN to prevent the fossil fuel industry from “undermining the negotiations”. Nearly 30 celebrities, including Jason Momoa, Jane Fonda, and Joaquin Phoenix, have also written a letter calling on the Biden Administration to support a legally binding treaty that caps plastic production.

Dr Therese Karlsson, Science Advisor with the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), commented: “Plastics are made with toxic chemicals, and these chemicals don’t simply go away when plastics are recycled. The science clearly shows that plastic recycling is a toxic endeavour with threats to our health and the environment all along the recycling stream.

“Simply put, plastic poisons the circular economy and our bodies, and pollutes air, water, and food. We should not recycle plastics that contain toxic chemicals. Real solutions to the plastics crisis will require global controls on chemicals in plastics and significant reductions in plastic production.”

In October last year (2022), Greenpeace USA released its Circular Claims Fall Flat Again report which claimed that most plastic in the US “simply cannot be recycled”.

Modern society couldn’t function without plastic and it is also vital to the healthcare sector.

Reacting to the report, The British Plastics Federation, issued the following statement, said: “Modern society couldn’t function without plastic and it is also vital to the healthcare sector. As a material, it enriches our lives but once used it needs to be disposed of with care and recycled wherever possible.

“Reports like this should not discourage people from recycling, as it remains the most desirable outcome for the majority of plastic products at the end of their life.

“Reuse is an important part of reaching a more sustainable future but all products will eventually reach the end of their useable life and there needs to be an alternative to landfill and incineration, wherever possible, which requires recycling. It is worth repeating that recycling benefits the environment by reducing the use of fossil fuels and keeping material in functional use for as long as possible.”

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