Scientists are proposing to reclassify the most polluting of plastics as hazardous materials hopefully enabling governments to do something about the 140 million tons of plastic that litter our roadsides, waterways and shorelines each year.
In a piece published Thursday in the journal Nature, the international group of scientists make that argument that by reclassifying the most harmful plastic waste as hazardous material—much like chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were in 1989—environmental agencies will be better equipped to regulate the waste and research less destructive alternatives.
"The United States, Europe, Japan and other nations classified plastic as solid waste, treating their disposal much like food scraps or grass clippings," said report coauthor Mark Anthony Browne. "It's an outdated view that plastics are inert ignoring scientific evidence [...] that plastic debris is laden with highly toxic pollutants."
"We believe that if countries classified the most harmful plastics as hazardous, their environmental agencies would have the power to restore affected habitats and prevent more dangerous debris from accumulating," says the report.
The proposal initially targets four kinds of plastics composed of the most toxic materials: polyvinylchloride, or PVC, used in plastic pipes; polystyrene, or popularly known as Styrofoam; polyurethane; and polycarbonate, a hard plastic used in making baby bottles, electronics and appliances.
"We feel," the group writes, "that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste—the United States, Europe and China—must act now."