From Jude Owuamanam, Jos

A non-governmental organization, the Centre for Earth Works (CFEW), in conjunction with the International Pollutant Elimination Network (IPEN), has recently conducted a study that challenges the notion that recycling plastics effectively addresses the plastic crisis. According to their findings, plastic recycling actually contributes to the spread of toxic chemicals, posing a significant threat to the environment.

During a press briefing held at the Nigerian Union of Journalists NUJ Press Centre in Jos, CFEW Research Associate Stanley Okwara highlighted the results of a study conducted by IPEN member groups across 24 countries, including Nigeria. The study identified 491 chemicals in recycled plastics, including pesticides, industrial chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other toxic substances.

“The results add to the increasing evidence that plastic recycling spreads toxic chemicals uncontrollably and is not a solution to the plastic crisis,” stated Okwara.

In 2020, CFEW and various NGO groups from 24 countries visited local small-scale recycling facilities in their respective nations. They purchased samples of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pellets, which are commonly used and recycled plastics. HDPE is utilized in the production of a wide range of plastic products, including pipes, lumber, bottles, and children’s toys.

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The research involved analyzing 28 samples of HDPE pellets for the presence of bisphenol A, as well as various chemicals from brominated flame retardants and benzotriazole UV stabilizers. The analysis included both targeted and non-targeted approaches to detect specific chemicals and capture additional ones.

“The results of the analysis showed that more than half of the samples (54%) contained 11 or more chemicals, and 21 pellet samples contained one or more of the targeted chemicals,” explained Okwara.

Furthermore, Okwara, who also serves as the Youth Co-chair for IPEN, emphasized that the presence of contaminants and impurities in recycled HDPE pellets suggests that these chemicals were not directly added during the recycling process. Additionally, the inclusion of unnecessary additives in the recycled pellets indicates inputs from various plastic sources, including containers for pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.

In light of these findings, Okwara stressed the need for action, stating, “Recycling has been presented as a solution to the plastic crisis. However, due to the addition of toxic plastic chemicals, both from the process itself and a variety of process contaminants, recycling plastics actually perpetuates the recycling of toxic chemicals and therefore constitutes a false solution.”