Groups under the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) on Tuesday joined calls for transparency on hazardous chemicals used in plastic production amid the release of a global report identifying “substances of concern” in plastics.
The report titled “Plastic’s Toxic Additives and the Circular Economy,” which was developed in collaboration with United Nations convention groups, technical experts, and organizations working to address pollution, highlighted the extensive evidence of toxic chemical components in plastics that can harm human and environmental health and impede a safe circular economy.
“This report is notable because it identifies hazardous chemical additives in common, widely available products and illustrates how they pose a threat to health and the environment whether in products, in waste, in recycling, landfill, or incineration. In order to achieve a non-toxic circular economy, we must ensure a precautionary approach to prevent hazardous chemicals in all stages of the lifecycle of plastics,” IPEN science adviser Dr. Sara Brosché said.
Among the identified “substances of concern” in plastics cited in the report include flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, phthalates, bisphenols, and nonylphenols.
It explained that these substances, many of which are endocrine disrupting chemicals, are toxic additives in plastics that are commonly used in everyday consumer goods such as children’s toys, food packaging, electronics, textiles, upholstery, and furniture.
“The loads of undisclosed toxic additives in plastics can make recycling complicated, difficult, and dangerous,” Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) chair Sonia Mendoza said.
“This situation undermines efforts to eliminate plastic pollution and achieve the zero waste goal and validates our call for chemical transparency and clean production,” she added.
Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) executive director Chinkie Peliño-Golle recommended that policy makers and implementers, including the National Solid Waste Management Commission and local government units (LGUs) should use the report to enforce the prohibition on the manufacture, distribution, or use of non-environmentally acceptable packaging (NEAP) materials under Republic Act 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
“The issuance of the long-overdue NEAP list as required by law will help household and community efforts to prevent and reduce waste and pollution,” she added.
EcoWaste Coalition chemical safety campaigner Thony Dizon also urged the authorities to require compulsory chemical content labeling in all plastic materials.
“Transparency in labeling is an essential tool that can assist policy makers, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers in promoting industry shift to ecological and safe designs, materials, and products that pose no harm to human health and the ecosystems,” he said.
Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat said “there are a wide variety of chemical additives in plastics, some of them have been identified as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and are now listed under the Stockholm Convention–for example, brominated flame retardants and fluorinated water repellents.”
The report cited four key approaches that will help reduce the production and use of chemicals of concern, prevent regrettable substitutions, and realize a safe circular economy.
This includes designing materials in accordance with goals of causing no harm to environmental and human health and achieving zero waste.
The report also recommended investments for the development of new and safer materials and systems that avoid the production and use of plastics with hazardous chemical additives and avoid the replacement of toxic additives with regrettable substitutions.
“Industry collaboration will be key for the industry to take responsibility for the hazardous materials they produce,” the report also pointed out, adding that “transparent chemical composition labelling must be applied to all plastic materials.”