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Recycling of plastics threatened by toxic additives, environmental and health advocates say

by Cheryl Hogue
February 20, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 7


A gloved hand holds chips of plastic.
Credit: Shutterstock
This chipped-up plastic is headed for recycling.

Recycled plastics in China, Indonesia, and Russia contain toxic chemicals that were added to original products and could pose health risks to consumers in their new iterations, advocates say in a report. The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a coalition of more than 600 environmental and health advocacy organizations, found brominated flame retardants in recycled plastic products in all three countries. Every item tested contained brominated flame retardants that are banned under the global Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, showing that these prohibited chemicals are ending up in new items through the recycling process. All three countries produce and receive electronic waste containing these flame retardants, the report says. The presence of the flame retardants and other toxic substances, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and bisphenol A, render the possible circular economy for plastics, in which polymers would be recycled indefinitely, “poisonous,” the report says. “Until products are made without toxic additives, environmentally sound separation needs to be deployed to remove toxic substances prior to recycling,” IPEN says.


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