IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

Plastic is destroying Earth — and recycling won’t help

chickens in a plastic waste dump, Salon logo in foreground

A new report by Greenpeace USA reveals that recycling plastic not only fails to help the problem — it may actually make things worse. More significantly, the report reviews dozens of previous studies about plastic pollution to arrive at a sobering conclusion: If humanity does not get plastic pollution under control, the entire Earth ecosystem could be placed in grave danger.

The report notes “Recycled plastics often contain higher levels of chemicals that can poison people and contaminate communities, including toxic flame retardants, benzene and other carcinogens, environmental pollutants like brominated and chlorinated dioxins, and numerous endocrine disruptors that can cause changes to the body’s natural hormone levels.”

By email, Dr. Therese Karlsson, a Science Advisor with the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), many of whose studies are featured in the report, said “The studies show that waste workers are exposed when they collect plastics, communities near recycling facilities are exposed from air and water pollution and consumers who use recycled plastic products face toxic exposures. It’s also important to note that the science shows that recycled plastics can be even more toxic than virgin plastics. Thus, the science directly contradicts strategies to resolve the plastics crisis through more recycling.”

Karlsson pointed out that the chemicals and wastes pollution crisis is, along with the climate change crisis and the biodiversity crisis, one of the “three planetary crises” facing Earth because of human activity. “The evidence shows that we have exceeded the planetary boundaries for chemical and plastics pollution, meaning that production and emissions may be threatening the stability of the entire global ecosystem,” Karlsson explained. “Without dramatic reductions in plastic production and eliminating toxic chemicals from plastics, we risk a significant global ecological disruption.”

Read the full story from Salon.