A pair of scientists has published an environmental ‘call to arms' that says that some plastics should be classified as hazardous waste in order to ensure that governments properly deal with them.
Writing in the online version of the journal Nature, Chelsea Rochman, from University of California, and Mark Anthony Browne, from the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California, claim that labelling some plastics – specifically PVC, polystyrene, polyurethane and polycarbonate – as hazardous would cut health risks and protect wildlife.
“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,” they wrote.
According to the pair, in 2012 280 million tonnes of plastic were produced globally of which less than half was recycled or went to landfill. The scientists suggest of the remaining 150 million tonnes, some will still be in use but a substantial amount has ended up discarded as litter.
Their article claims that if the current rate of production continues the planet will be shouldering an additional 33 billion tonnes of plastic by 2050.
“This could be reduced to just four billion tonnes if the most problematic plastics are classified as hazardous immediately and replaced with safer, reusable materials in the next decade,” said Rochman and Browne.
"We feel that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste – the United States, Europe and China – must act now."