Why “recycling” will not solve the plastic pollution problem
A new report by the International Pollutants Elimination Network, (IPEN), calls major investments in plastic recycling schemes, including so called “chemical recycling”, a ‘marketing ploy’ obscuring bigger solutions to the plastic pollution problem such as limiting production.
The report highlights how recycling plastic by using chemicals and heat, turning plastic into fuel and burning it in incinerators all release high volumes of hazardous waste and toxic emissions because most plastics contain toxic additives. These are added to give plastic a variety of features, from colour to ‘plasticity’. Some are known endocrine disruptors and can interfere with the hormone system of humans and wildlife. Plastic recycling and recovery can therefore not only increase exposure to toxic chemicals for the communities where the processing plant is located, but can also increase concentrations of these toxic additives in the environment.
With the petrochemical industry shifting from the production of fuel to the production of chemicals and plastics, due to restrictions on carbon emissions, the report predicts plastic production and pollution are set to intensify in the years ahead.
The only way to stop the pollution caused by plastic is to decrease production and remove toxic additives. The report highlights further solutions to plastic pollution crisis, such as an international treaty to reduce the amount of plastic the industry can produce, managing existing stockpiles of waste in an environmentally sound manner and creating a sustainable management system for any plastic produced in the future.