Chemicals in plastic wastes contaminate food chain – study

MANILA, Philippines — Burning and improper disposal of plastic wastes lead to contamination of the food chain, especially in developing countries like the Philippines, a global study showed.

In a study released by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) with the environmental watchdog EcoWaste Coalition, it was shown how common disposal methods of plastic waste such as by burning and dumping, as well as their exportation, end up contaminating the food supply and threatening community health.

The study, titled “Plastic Waste Poisoning Food and Threatening Communities in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America,” involves analyzation of egg samples obtained from free-range chicken eggs in the vicinity of various plastic waste disposal sites and facilities from 14 countries.

The countries included in the study were Belarus, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Gabon, Ghana, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico, Philippines, Tanzania, Thailand and Uruguay.

The egg samples were analyzed in European laboratories. The IPEN explained that egg analysis was employed for the study as eggs easily show traces of contamination with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) because of their significant lipid content where POPs like dioxins can accumulate and “because eggs from contaminated areas can readily lead to exposures that exceed thresholds for the protection of human health.”

For the Philippines, the egg samples were obtained near a hazardous waste incinerator in Trece Martires City in Cavite, and in a neighborhood in Caloocan City where electronic waste (e-waste) dismantling is taking place.

The egg samples were specifically analyzed for dioxin, a common byproduct of plastic waste open-burning, crude recycling, chemical production and incineration technologies. The eggs were also analyzed for the presence of other POPs, collectively known as “flame retardants” which have been banned or are in the process of being banned globally through the Stockholm Convention on POPs.

Based on the laboratory analyses, all the egg samples from the 14 countries contain various kinds of toxic chemicals “many of which are banned or regulated,” including chemical additives polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), short-chained chlorinated paraffins and unintentional byproduct POPs like dioxins.

The study found that the levels of dioxin and PCBs in eggs in some locations “were so high that residents could not eat a single egg without exceeding the health safety threshold limits for these chemicals established in the European Union.”

The “extremely high” levels of dioxin were specifically observed in the egg samples from seven African and Asian countries, including the Philippines. The report noted that egg samples from these countries were collected near facilities “where plastic waste is, or was either used as fuel or incinerated, often in combination with other waste.”

For instance, egg samples obtained near tofu factories using plastic waste as fuel in Tropodo, Indonesia had dioxin levels between 140 to 200 picogram (pg) toxicity equivalent (TEQ) g-1 fat, way in excess of the European Union’s limit of 2.5 pg TEQ g-1 fat for chlorinated dioxins in eggs.

Analyzed eggs from the Philippines, meanwhile, had dioxin levels ranging from 5.3 to 53 pg TEQ g-1 fat.

The experts involved in the study said that using non-combustion alternative methods, instead of waste-to-energy incineration technologies, for the treatment of hazardous waste and other wastes can prevent the creation of unintentional POPs formed during the burning process.

The study also called on the plastic industry to invest in safe plastic alternatives, eliminate toxic chemical additives to plastics, list plastic ingredients on labels, and create closed-loop systems that don’t create toxic waste.

“Dioxins and other POPs remain in the soil for decades or even centuries, creating a reservoir of highly toxic contaminants that poison the food chain now and will continue to do so for a long time into the future,” said Jindrich Petrlik, study co-author and Toxics and Waste program director of Arnika Association.

“This report confirms that the harm being caused by plastic waste exports is not limited to visible litter and pollution, but includes the insidious damage to human health caused by contamination of the food chain in importing countries. Toxic chemical additives and the world’s most hazardous substances are literally bleeding into the food supply of those countries least able to prevent it,” Lee Bell, IPEN’s policy advisor on POPs, added.

As for the Philippines, EcoWaste Coalition chemical safety campaigner Thony Dizon said the findings of the study strengthen their resolve to push for state policies against hazardous wastes.

“This global study provides advocates for a zero waste and toxics-free society in our country with critical data to justify strong policy solutions to curb plastic and chemical pollution, including a ban on hazardous waste imports such as electronic waste and plastic waste often disguised as scraps for recycling, a ban on non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging, and the enforcement of the ban on waste incineration, including proscribing burn or thermal waste-to-energy technologies,” Dizon said.

New Zealand to ban most single-use plastics by 2025

New Zealanders will be farewelling their plastics – bags, ear buds, spoons and straws – as the government attempts to match the country’s reality to its “clean green” reputation. Currently one of the top 10 per-capita producers of landfill waste in the world, New Zealand has announced it will ban a swathe of single-use plastics, …

The Mystery of How Long Until It’s Gone

Huge amounts of marine debris enter the ocean and Great Lakes every year, from large abandoned and derelict vessels and fishing gear, to plastic bottles, food wrappers, and other trash, and even tiny pieces of plastic that you can’t see with the human eye! But once our trash is in the ocean, what happens to it? How long does it last, and can we ever say that it’s gone? Unfortunately, when we talk about degradation rates, or the amount of time something takes to break down in the marine environment, the answer isn’t simple. Marine debris is made up of many different types of human-made materials, including paper, metals, glass, textiles, and plastic. These materials break down in different ways, making it difficult for us to understand how long they will last once they get into our ocean or Great Lakes. Although you may hear that it takes hundreds of years for some items to degrade, there are many different factors that can cause an item to break down quickly, or not at all! For plastics, exposure to sunlight, water, microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and algae, the temperature of the environment, the amount of oxygen, and the location of an item can all contribute to how marine debris breaks down.
There are many different types of marine debris, which makes it difficult to understand how long they will last in our ocean and Great Lakes (Photo: NOAA).It’s especially difficult to understand how human-made materials, such as plastics, degrade in the marine environment. Not all plastics are created the same, and the name “plastic” is used to describe a wide range of human-made polymers. These materials are used to make many different products, including food and beverage packaging, plastic bags, electronics, medical devices, car parts, appliances, and more. During manufacturing, chemicals (called additives) are added to plastics to give them different qualities, such as flexibility, bright colors, and resistance to sunlight and fire. Because plastics can come in so many different forms and with so many additives, it can be even more difficult to understand how long something made of plastic takes to degrade. In fact, some plastics may fragment into tinier and tinier pieces, and never fully go away. 

Even plastics labeled as “bio-based” or “biodegradable” that may break down in industrial composting facilities, or under very specific conditions, are not designed to quickly break down in household compost piles, soil, or in aquatic environments. Plastics of all types, even those labelled as biodegradable, could stay in the ocean and Great Lakes for an indefinite amount of time.

Bottles to bricks: Lego finds the right fit with recycled plastic

COPENHAGEN, June 23 (Reuters) – Lego expects to begin selling toy building bricks made from recycled plastic bottles in 18 to 24 months, having found a suitable green alternative to oil-based plastic, the Danish toymaker said on Wednesday.Lego’s search for an alternative material has been a challenge, with almost 150 engineers and scientists testing many different plant-based and recycled materials over the past six years.”We are super excited about this breakthrough,” said Tim Brooks, Lego’s vice president of environmental responsibility.”We want our products to have a positive impact on the planet, not just with the play they inspire, but also with the materials we use.”Lego, which uses some 100,000 tonnes of plastic in its products each year, said it will use recycled material from plastic bottles that are certified as safe to handle beverages in Europe and the United States.A one-liter plastic water bottle will yield about ten standard Lego bricks.View a plastic bottle, pellets and bricks at Lego’s materials and safety testing labs in Billund, Denmark taken at the end of May 2021. Note: Picture does not represent how many bricks one plastic bottle yields. One yields about ten 2×4 bricks. LEGO Group/via REUTERS Read MoreSince 2018, the company has made some of the less rigid parts of Lego sets, such as plants and trees, from bio-polyethylene made from sugarcane.But using such materials for harder bricks has proven challenging, while maintaining the shape, feel and safety for children.Lego said last year it would invest $400 million over three years to step up efforts to use sustainable materials and that it aimed to replace plastic bricks with ones made from sustainable materials by the end of the decade. Lego has applied for a patent on its mix of recycled plastic bottles and a strengthening additive. So far, the bricks have a slight grey tint, but the company is refining the material colour and how the bricks grip together.The company expects to bring the prototype 2×2 and 2×4 bricks to market in 18 to 24 months and will continue to test the material on various brick types.Rival toy maker Mattel (MAT.O), best known as the maker of Barbie dolls, in 2019 announced it aimed to produce its plastic toys from recycled, recyclable or bio-mass plastics from 2030.Reporting by Tim Barsoe; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Bernadette BaumOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

She Owes Her Big Environmental Prize To Goats Eating Plastic Bags

Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, an activist from Malawi, is one of six recipients of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize. Majiga-Kamoto has been instrumental in implementing Malawi’s ban on thin plastics.

Goldman Environmental Prize

Goldman Environmental Prize

For Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, her great awakening to plastic pollution started with goats. She was working for a local environmental nongovernmental organization in her native Malawi with a program that gave goats to rural farmers. The farmers would use the goats’ dung to produce low-cost, high-quality organic fertilizer. The problem? The thin plastic bags covering the Malawian countryside. “We have this very common street food. It’s called chiwaya, and it’s just really potato fried on the side of the road, and it’s served in these little blue plastics,” Majiga-Kamoto says. “So because it’s salty, once the goats get a taste of the salt, they just eat the plastic because they can’t really tell that it’s inedible. And they die because it blocks the ingestion system — there’s no way to survive.” The goats were supposed to reproduce for the program, with the goat kids going on to new farmers. But because of plastic deaths, the whole goat chain started falling apart. “It was a lot of expectation from the farmers waiting to benefit. So you had this farmer who had this one goat, and then they lost it. And that means that in that chain of farmers, that’s obviously affected quite a number of farmers who won’t get their turn.”

For Majiga-Kamoto, her experience at the NGO with the plastic-eating goats was the moment it all changed. All of a sudden, she started noticing how plastics were everywhere in the Malawian environment and food system — affecting people’s livelihoods and health. The fish in Lake Malawi were eating plastic trash. The country’s cows were eating plastic. Researchers found that in one Malawian town, 40% of the livestock had plastic in their intestines. “We’re choking in plastics,” Majiga-Kamoto says. “And so what it means is that in one way or the other, we as humans are consuming these plastics.” Majiga-Kamoto was also seeing how plastics contributed to the growth of disease. Huge piles of plastic trash were blocking off Malawi’s many waterways, creating pungent breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry malaria and for bacteria that cause cholera. The 30-year-old says she remembers a time when Malawians didn’t rely so much on thin, single-use plastic. “I remember back in the day when we’d go to the market and buy things like fish, like dried fish, you’d get it in newspapers.” But thin plastics took off in the last decade or so as new manufacturers sprung up in Malawi, selling products like thin plastic bags at cheap prices that made them affordable and accessible even in the most undeveloped parts of the country. A 2019 report funded by the U.N. Development Programme found that Malawi produces an estimated 75,000 metric tons of plastic a year, with 80% reportedly single-use plastic. Single-use plastic refers to bags, straws and bottles that can’t be recycled, and thin plastic refers to plastic that’s under 60 microns in thickness.

Packaging stewardship passes in Oregon Senate

Oregon state senators approved the bill on a 16-13 vote. | Borka Kiss / Shutterstock
The upper chamber of the Oregon legislature narrowly approved a bill establishing extended producer responsibility for packaging Wednesday morning. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 582 establishes a producer responsibility program for packaging, printing and writing paper, and food serviceware. The bill, which was introduced in January, has been moving through the legislative process and reached the Senate floor on June 23.
The Senate approved the bill on a 16-13 vote, which fell almost entirely on party lines, with just one Democrat voting against the proposal. It now moves to the state House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats. If it passes in that chamber, the bill would go to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown for a final signature.
Prior to the vote, bill sponsor Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat, described the fluctuations in the U.S. recycling system in recent years and said they highlight the need for major changes.
The EPR discussion in Oregon, he noted, was triggered directly by China’s decision to restrict and ban certain recovered materials. That led to a recycling market crisis in Oregon, he said.
“As often happens with crises, a crisis occurs and it reveals deep flaws in our system that need to be addressed,” Dembrow said. “What we realized was just how weak our recycling system had become.”
Sen. Lee Beyer, a Democrat and chair of the Senate Committee On Energy and Environment that recommended passage of the bill, spoke to the changes it would make in Oregon’s recycling system. Producers would be responsible for a portion of the costs of recycling their products. Fees would be set by producer responsibility organizations, not by the state Department of Environmental Quality, Beyer said. The state agency will establish a statewide list of accepted materials, however, “so we don’t continue to have it in a haphazard manner,” Beyer said.
Beyer likened the EPR discussion to similar processes to establish Oregon’s 1971 container deposit legislation, which was the first in the U.S., as well as the state’s electronics recycling program, which requires producers to fund collection and recycling of certain devices. These programs generated concerns and opposition prior to passage, he noted, but both have improved recovery of their target materials.
He added that opposition to the Oregon EPR proposal is coming in part from national industry interests that are worried about EPR taking off on a wider scale in the U.S.
“Their concern is that if Oregon establishes this program, as we did with the bottle bill, it will become a national program,” he said.
But Beyer also read from the recent Ellen MacArthur Foundation statement expressing significant corporate support for EPR programs, from major retailers, brand owners and others.
Sen. Lynn Findley, a Republican and vice chair of the environment committee, expressed concerns that the bill does not address recycling market development in Oregon. He said producers were not as active in the policy development discussions as other stakeholders, and he anticipates they will pass recycling costs on to the consumer.
The Oregon Senate approval follows a similar legislative process in Maine, where both chambers of the legislature last week approved a packaging EPR program that will now move to the state’s governor for a possible signature.
More stories about EPR/stewardship

Ocean Plastics: A BLUE Film Screening

BLUE takes us on a journey into the ocean realm, to see for ourselves this critical moment in time when the marine world is on a precipice. Featuring passionate advocates for ocean preservation, BLUE takes us into their world where the story of our changing ocean is unfolding. We meet those who are combating marine pollution and fighting for the protection of keystone species. This film comes at a time when we are making critical decisions that will decide the legacy we leave for generations to come. BLUE shows us there is a way each and every person can make a difference, and the time to act is now.About Jennifer

Jennifer Lavers is a lecturer in Marine Science at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania. Her research focuses on plastic and chemical pollution of the marine environment, using seabirds as sentinel species.

UN report calls for urgent help for oceans

A new United Nations report calls for an urgent change in the way the world’s oceans are managed.
The report from the International Resource Panel, hosted by the UN Environment Programme, raises concerns that if changes are not made quickly, the consequences will be dire. 
The Governing Coastal Resources Report was launched today at an event addressed by Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. It outlines the effect land-based human activities have on the marine environment.  
Put into context – 80 per cent of marine and coastal pollution originates on land, but there are very few, if any, truly effective governance mechanisms that manage land-ocean interactions.  The report provides policy makers with options to help reduce the effect of land-based activities on coastal resources and support a transition to a sustainable ocean-based economy.

This should now be a global priority where the most impactful land-based activities are prioritised for urgent action and so generating the most benefit most quickly.

Professor Steve Fletcher, , Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy and Director of the Sustainability and the Environment research theme at the University of Portsmouth

“The report draws together an evidence base that demonstrates beyond question the need for enhanced governance coordination between terrestrial activities and marine resources,” said Izabella TeixeiraandJanez Potočnik, Co-Chairs of the International Resource Panel.
Lead author of the report – Steve Fletcher, Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy and Director of the Sustainability and the Environment research theme at the University of Portsmouth, said: “There is no doubt that the future of our oceans are at risk, and so is the critical role they play in supporting life on Earth and human wellbeing, as well as regulating the climate.  This is a global issue in which isolated interventions will have minimal impact.  Systemic change is the key to success by bringing together countries, governments, business and communities to take collective action.”
Professor Fletcher, who is also Director of the University’s Revolution Plasticsinitiative, added: “We’ve got to stop looking at the problem in a fragmented way – land-based activities in one country may contribute to degradation of coastal resources in another region.  This should now be a global priority where the most impactful land-based activities are prioritised for urgent action and so generating the most benefit most quickly.”

We’ve got to stop looking at the problem in a fragmented way – land-based activities in one country may contribute to degradation of coastal resources in another region.

Professor Steve Fletcher, Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy and Director of the Sustainability and the Environment research theme at the University of Portsmouth

The report sends five key messages to world policy makers: 

Living coastal resources are most threatened by land-based activities.  Agriculture, ports and harbours and aquaculture are particularly impactful activities. 
All parts of the blue economy are vulnerable to changes in coastal resources arising from land-based activities, particularly fishing, aquaculture and tourism. 
Existing land-sea governance approaches cannot cope with the impacts on coastal resources created by land-based activities. 
Land-sea governance urgently needs to be strengthened to protect coastal resources from the impacts of land-based activities and to support the transition to a sustainable blue economy. 
Tackling the impacts of land-based activities on coastal resources is a global priority.  

The report also provides policy makers with five options for strengthening existing land-sea governance structures: 

Ecosystem-based management should be a guiding principle of coastal resource governance as it provides a holistic approach to the consideration of all influences on coastal resources.
Existing area-based management tools, with enhancement and adaptation, should be used to counteract the impacts of land-based activities on coastal resources.
Improved coordinating mechanisms are needed to overcome fragmented governance between sectors and between terrestrial and marine governance arrangements.
Implementation-focused capacity development programmes should be formulated and disseminated to target land-sea governance practitioners.
Filling evidence gaps, particularly related to the impacts of land-based activities on abiotic coastal resources, should be prioritised and their implications for effective governance determined.

Plastic Waste Exports from Wealthy Countries Poisoning People In Africa: Study

A new report has found that toxic chemicals in plastic waste exports from wealthy countries are contaminating food in developing and transition countries around the world, including Africa.
The study by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) found that most of the plastic waste exported from wealthy countries to countries with developing economies or economies in transition is landfilled, burned, or dumped into waterways.
According to the report, all plastics virtually contain hazardous chemical additives.
The report states that these disposal methods result in highly toxic emissions that remain in the environment for decades and build up in the food chain.
Dubbed ‘Plastic Waste Poisoning Food and Threatening Communities in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America’, the study demonstrates how these plastic waste handling methods end up poisoning local populations.
For this study, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in fourteen countries which in many cases receive plastic waste from abroad collected free-range chicken eggs in the vicinity of various plastic waste disposal sites and facilities.
The egg collection sites included plastic and electronic waste yards; waste dumpsites with significant amounts of plastic wastes; recycling and shredder plants that deal with significant amounts of plastic waste; and waste incineration and waste-to-energy operations.
The eggs were then analyzed for dioxin contamination, a highly toxic byproduct of open burning, crude recycling, chemical production, and incineration technologies. Additionally, the eggs were analyzed for other toxic chemicals known as “persistent organic chemicals” (POPs) that have been banned or are in the process of being banned globally through the Stockholm Convention.
“Even small amounts of these plastic chemical additives and byproduct emissions can cause damage to the immune and reproductive systems, cancers, impaired intellectual functions, and/or developmental delays,” the study states.
Egg samples from fourteen countries were analyzed for Plastic Waste Poisoning Food and Threatening Communities in Africa, Asia, Central, and Eastern Europe, and Latin America including: Belarus, Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Gabon, Ghana, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mexico, Philippines, Tanzania, Thailand, and Uruguay.
Commenting on the report’s finding, IPEN’s POPs Policy Advisor Lee Bell said the report confirms that the harm being caused by plastic waste exports is not limited to visible litter and pollution but includes the insidious damage to human health caused by contamination of the food chain in importing countries.
“Toxic chemical additives and the world’s most hazardous substances are literally bleeding into the food supply of those countries least able to prevent it,” she said.
The report found that the levels of dioxin and PCBs in eggs in some locations were so high that residents could not eat a single egg without exceeding the safe limits for these chemicals established in the European Union.
Additional Data
The analyzed eggs were also found to contain some of the most toxic chemicals ever studied, many of which are banned or regulated by international law, including dioxins, and the chemical additives PBDEs, PCBs and SCCPs.
It was also reported that in nearly every open plastic waste site where eggs were sampled, dioxin levels exceeded the European Union safe consumption maximum limit.  In some locations, eggs exceeded the safe limit by tenfold. For dioxin combined with PCBs that are just as toxic as dioxins (so are measured as a combination) all sites exceeded the EU limit with some sites up to sixfold higher.
Additionally, the maximum PBDEs levels in egg samples taken near some plastic waste disposal sites were comparable to the world’s most seriously contaminated e-waste sites in Guiyu, China.
“In one location in Indonesia, the dioxin levels in eggs were at a similar level to eggs sampled on a former US Air Force base in Vietnam which is heavily contaminated by Agent Orange,” the report states.
Very high levels of POPs were also detected at locations where plastics and electronic waste are mixed and then dumped and/or burned to recover metals. The study confirmed that burning this kind of mixture very often leads to much more severe dioxin contamination than open burning of wastes at general dumpsites.
Study co-author and Arnika – Toxics and Waste Programme Director Jindrich Petrlik said, “In the vicinity of the dumpsite in Pugu Kinyamwezi, Tanzania, eating just half an egg would exceed the European Food Safety Authority’s Tolerable Daily Intake limit by 7.5 times. It is unconscionable that people are exposed to such dangerous levels of contamination.”
“Dioxins and other POPs remain in the soil for decades or even centuries, creating a reservoir of highly toxic contaminants that poison the food chain now and will continue to do so for a long time into the future,” he added.
Griffins Ochieng, Centre for Environment Justice and Development, Kenya said, “Africa is not a major plastic or chemical producer. But plastic waste and the contamination that comes with it are growing in Africa. Why? Because wealthy countries are exporting their waste to us. This problem will only grow worse in the coming years if it is not stopped now.”
The report recommends global controls on hazardous chemicals in plastic and an end to plastic waste exports. It also calls on the industry to invest in safe plastic alternatives, eliminates toxic chemical additives to plastics, and create closed-loop systems that don’t create toxic waste.