Calls to classify plastic as ‘hazardous’

Plastic Bag

A new report into the hazards of plastic waste was released yesterday (14 February), calling on policy leaders to reclassify certain types of plastic waste as ‘hazardous’.

The report, ‘Policy: Classify plastic waste as hazardous’, written by 10 scientists and published in Nature, found that more than 370 marine species suffer the effects of plastic debris after ingesting or becoming entangled in the waste.

According to the report, labelling some plastics – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene, polyurethane and polycarbonate – as hazardous would mitigate associated health risks and protect wildlife.

The report reads: ‘We believe that if countries classified the most harmful plastics as hazardous, their environmental agencies would have the power to restore affected habitats and prevent more dangerous debris from accumulating.’

Figures published in the report demonstrate that less than half of the 280 million tonnes of plastic produced in 2012 was either recycled or landfilled, meaning that a large proportion of the remaining 150 million tonnes exists as potentially damaging litter.

It claims that if current levels of plastic production continue, there could be an additional 33 billion tonnes of plastic in circulation by 2050.

‘We feel 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’, the report concluded.

The report cites the reclassificiation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)  – the production of which ceased in 1989, seven years after they were classed as hazardous – as a prime example of how reclassification can aid environmental recovery.

Speaking to the BBC, one of the authors of the report, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth, Richard Thompson, said: "The Nature report builds directly on our previous research, together with that of other leading world experts, and asks that we acknowledge these problems by reclassification of plastic waste as hazardous."

The Albatross

The report comes ahead of a film from Chris Jordan at the MIDWAY media project, which documents the plight of the Laysan Albatross on the remote island of Midway Atoll.

According to the film, set to be released in ‘late 2013’, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses die each year from ingesting plastic from the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ – a floating island of waste plastic formed after becoming trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.

Read the ‘Policy: Classify plastic waste as hazardous’ report.

Ban on Styrofoam

In related news, in his final State of the City address yesterday, the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, announced that it was his intention to push for a ban on Styrofoam in the city.

In his speech, Bloomberg said: "Now, one product that is virtually impossible to recycle and never bio-degrades is Styrofoam. But it's not just terrible for the environment. It's terrible for taxpayers. Styrofoam increases the cost of recycling by as much as $20 per ton, because it has to be removed.

"Something that we know is environmentally destructive, that is costing taxpayers money, and that is easily replaceable, is something we can do without. So… we will work to adopt a law banning Styrofoam food packaging from our stores and restaurants.”

Read Bloomberg’s full address.