Tackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

Tackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

France 24 reports:

The scale of plastic pollution is growing, relentlessly. The world is producing twice as much plastic waste as two decades ago, reaching 353 million tonnes in 2019, according to OECD figures.

The vast majority goes into landfills, gets incinerated or is “mismanaged”, meaning left as litter or not correctly disposed of. Just 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled.

Ramping up plastic recycling might seem like a logical way to transform waste into a resource. But recent studies suggest that recycling plastic poses its own environmental and health risks, including the high levels of microplastics and harmful toxins produced by the recycling process that can be dangerous for people, animals and the environment.

“We found pretty scary amounts, to be honest,” said plastics scientist Erina Brown, lead author of a research paper into the microplastic run-off produced by recycling centres, published in May 2023.

The UK recycling centre at which Brown based her studies used large amounts of water (common practice in the recycling industry) to sort, shred and separate plastics before they were compounded and turned into pellets for resale.

Her research tested the rate of microplastics – plastic particles up to 5mm in size – released into the water through the process.

“There were 75 billion particles per metre cubed in the wash water,” she said. “About 6 percent of all the plastics that were coming into the facility were then being released into the water as microplastics, even with the filtration [system].” [Continue reading…]

Comments are closed.