A new way of thinking about plastic waste, as hazardous material rather than litter, could help stem the tide of debris making its way into the ocean and across the landscape.
A group of 10 scientists say classifying certain types of plastics as hazardous waste could drastically improve governmental efforts to reduce plastic debris and its impacts.
"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," said the scientists in an article posted on the journal Nature’s website.
The four types of plastic listed by the researchers are considered to have the most potentially toxic ingredients and are the hardest to recycle. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) is used to make plastic pipes; polystyrene is used to make plastic cups and food service containers; polyurethane is used to make car seats and furniture; and polycarbonate is used to make baby bottles, appliances and electronics.
They suggest that governments follow the example set in the 1989 Montreal Protocol, which classified chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) as hazardous and led to major steps toward reducing production of ozone depleting substances.
In a Feb. 13 Los Angeles Times article, researcher Mark Anthony Browne says the current practice of classifying plastics as solid waste is outdated and cites the work of his coauthor Chelsea M. Rochman, which found toxic pollutants in plastic debris. The article also quotes studies that found tiny particles of plastics can be inhaled by humans and wildlife and may be connected to health problems in both.