Tuesday, 7 September 2010

More bad news for plastic!

Here are some  fascinating pieces of information about plastic, reproduced from Plastic Manners. With kind permission of the blog owner, Taina.

Recycling is not the solution.

‘Traditional’ plastic uses non-renewable petroleum as its main ingredient. Many varieties of petroleum-based plastic can be “recycled”  and these are denoted with an SPI Resin Identification Code of 1 through 7 on the bottom of the plastic container. One being the easiest to recycle into other goods and 7 being the hardest.

But really, the above statement really doesn’t accurately depict the real situation. Plastic is actually not recyclable in the true sense of the word: you cannot turn one plastic bottle into another plastic bottle. Plastic downcycles at best –becomes lower quality items like plastic lumber.. which will end up in landfill anyway at some point.

Nobody can say that they “recycle” plastic. We put plastics in recycling containers and these are taken away.. where? Nobody knows. Most of the plastic disposables are shipped to China where they are burned for energy, or melted into low-quality plastic. Sometimes it just ends up in the landfill. They say that in the US, less than 10% of plastic gets recycled.. but that is not true. 10% gets recovered, which doesn’t mean that it will be recycled. A small percentage of that will be downcycled and the rest will be landfilled (or end up in the ocean), burnt or shipped to other countries. It would be more appropriate to say that 0% is recycled. Recycling of plastics is a myth, designed to perpetuate a business built around the generation of waste.
For what it’s worth, Greenpeace provides the following chart on plastics.

Plastics affect human health.
And then, there is the health side of it all. Plastics are toxic and can have severe impacts on your health. Here are some things you should know (source: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/):

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Used in soft drink, juice, water, beer, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing, detergent and cleaner containers.

Leaches antimony trioxide and di(2ethylhexyl) pthalate (DEHP). Workers exposed to antimony trioxide for long periods of time have exhibited respiratory and skin irritation; among female workers, increased incidence of menstrual problems and miscarriage; their children exhibited slower development in the first twelve months of life. The longer a liquid is left in such a container the greater the concentration of antimony released into the liquid. DEHP is an endocrine disruptor that mimics the female hormone estrogen. It has been strongly linked to asthma and allergies in children. It may cause certain types of cancer, and it has been linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP has been banned since 1999 from use in plastic toys for children under the age of three.

High density polyethylene (HDPE)
Used in opaque milk, water, and juice containers, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles, garbage bags, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners.

Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC)
Used in toys, clear food and non-food packaging (e.g., cling wrap), some squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, pet toys, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles, shower curtains, medical tubing, and numerous construction products (e.g., pipes, siding).

PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. Leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticizer or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen; have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP and BBzP and other dangerous pthalates have been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999.

Low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Used in grocery stores, dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, most plastic wraps, squeezable bottles (honey, mustard).

Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

Polypropylene (PP)
Used in ketchup bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, medecine and syrup bottles, straws, Rubbermaid and other opaque plastic containers, including baby bottles.

Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

Polystyrene (PS)
Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery, compact disc cases.

Leaches styrene, which is an endocrine disruptor mimicking the female hormone estrogen, and thus has the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems; long-term exposure by workers has shown brain and nervous system effects; adverse effects on red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies. Also present in secondhand cigarette smoke, off-gassing of building materials, car exhaust and possibly drinking water. Styrene migrates significantly from polystyrene containers into the container’s contents when oily foods are heated in such containers.

This is a catch-all category that includes anything that does not come within the other six categories. As such, one must be careful in interpreting this category because it includes polycarbonate – a dangerous plastic – but it also includes the new, safer, biodegradable bio-based plastics made from renewable resources such as corn and potato starch, and sugar cane. Polycarbonate is used in many plastic baby bottles, clear plastic “sippy” cups, sports water bottles, three and five gallon large water storage containers, metal food can liners, some juice and ketchup containers, compact discs, cell phones, computers.

Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol A (some effects described above), and numerous studies have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to Bisphenol A: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, various behavioural changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs.

Important Note: Two other types of plastic that fall under code 7 are acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Both AS/SAN and ABS are higher quality plastics with increased strength, rigidity, toughness and temperature and chemical resistance. AS/SAN is used in mixing bowls, thermos casing, dishes, cutlery, coffee filters, toothbrushes, outer covers (printers, calculators, lamps), battery housing. The incorporation of butadiene during the manufacture of AS/SAN, produces ABS, which is an even tougher plastic. ABS is used in LEGO toys, pipes, golf club heads, automotive parts, protective head gear. Our research on risks associated with AS/SAN and ABS is ongoing.

Bioplastics are not the solution.
What about bioplastics? Bioplastics are just plastics made with plants. Bioplastics may or may not be biodegradable, may or may not be toxic, just like any other plastic. Bioplastics raise lots of questions. As of today, the term Bioplastics lends itself to greenwashing.

The term biodegradable needs to be defined (plutonium is also biodegradable… just give it 300,000 years…). Some “biodegradable” plastics take years to disappear, some require heat in commercial composting facilities, and some do not biodegrade at all if they end up in landfills or the marine environment. Biodegradable plastic may leave toxic contaminants in the soil and water. All biodegradable plastics require use water, land, energy, crops (largely GMO). Lots of questions need to be asked. The most important question is do we really need disposable plastics?
Biodegradable plastics cannot become an excuse to perpetuate our throwaway habits.


  1. Good to find a low down on which plastic is which. It should help with the recycling.

  2. hi john - posted your biog in my plastic free who's who. Thanks for that xx pam

  3. Shah polymers - The firm is engaged in the business of Developing and Marketing engineering plastics, ABS, Poly acetyl, PU, Commodity plastics, advertising materials.
    FOR MORE DETAILS VISIT http://www.shahpolymers.com/product_sub.php?maincatId=3&subcatId=12&indexId=2