Call for international action to control plastic chemicals

24Jan 2022
Geoffrey Nangai
The Guardian
Call for international action to control plastic chemicals

HEALTH and environmental groups have called for international action to control plastic chemicals, and the scaling down of plastics production, to curb growing crisis.

Conventional recycling just breaks plastic into small pellets. Photo courtesy of internet.

This follows two joint studies by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) and International Pellet Watch (IPW) that showed that plastics pose significant threats to human health and ecosystems throughout their life cycles.


“For some toxic chemical additives, any exposure can trigger health impacts, such as certain cancers or changes to hormone activity (known as endocrine disruption), which can lead to reproductive, growth, and cognitive impairment,” the report noted.


The report added that the safety of many chemical additives is not complete, and there is little to no knowledge about the risks associated with exposure to the complex mixture of toxic chemicals currently transported and released from plastic pellets.


Report lead author and IPEN science advisor Dr. Sara Brosché said the widespread use of toxic chemical additives in plastic products makes a lot of recycled plastic waste an unacceptable raw material for making new products.


“Continued use of toxic chemical additives in plastics render most plastics in use today ‘non-circular’, thus excluding plastics from any circular economy,” Dr. Brosche said.


Commenting on the beach pellet study, Professor Hideshige Takada said “the study demonstrates how the plastics industry caused problems even before products enter the marketplace and reach the consumer by acting as a vector for toxic chemical additives like BUVs, and existing toxic chemicals”


To get a global picture of the role plastics play in transporting toxic chemicals around the world, IPEN and IPW in partnership with local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) partners in 35 countries including Tanzania to investigate hazardous chemicals and pollutants present in spilled or lost pre-production plastic pellets found on beaches; and recycled plastic pellets purchased from recycling facilities.


The studies revealed the presence of toxic chemical additives and pollutants that pose multiple health threats to humans and the environment. The toxic chemicals assessed included:  UV Stabilizers, PCBs. Flame retardants among others.


PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were banned under the Stockholm Convention in 2001, but because of their widespread use, are still found in the environment.


The study in Tanzania was commissioned by the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO) in partnership with Agenda for Environment and Responsible Development (AGENDA) around the beach areas in Dar es Salaam Tanzania.


Speaking to reporters in Dar es Salaam mid this week, the (TABIO) Coordinator

Abdallah Mkindi said plastic pellet concentration is high in Africa even though the continent is not the biggest plastics producer and do not have the capacity to manage the risks associated with toxic chemicals.


He noted that the study’s findings indicated that Tanzania was moderately polluted by plastic pellets, cautioning that if no deliberate steps are undertaken by the Government to address the issue of plastic pellets, the situation could get worse in the future.


“ We are glad that Tanzania has already made a bold step to ban use of plastic bags as part of efforts to tackle environmental pollution. It is time for the Government to take action on toxic chemical additives and pollutants that pose multiple health threats,” Mkindi noted.


He added that there is a need to ban the use of toxic chemical additives in plastics and identify essential uses of plastics, scale down all other production and phase out all non-circular plastics.


“Manufacturers should phase out use of toxic chemicals in plastics and make sure to disclose any toxic content to downstream users, consumers, recyclers and waste handlers,” he added.


Griffins Ochieng, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, and Chair of IPEN’s Toxic Plastics Working Group, said, “new global controls are needed to combat plastics and the toxic chemicals that are added to them to make them function,”

It is estimated that over 10,000 chemicals are present in plastics and around 5,000 of these are chemical additives that contribute to the function of products.