Integrating a Chemicals Perspective into the Global Plastic Treaty

Zhanyun Wang and Antonia Praetorius (2022). “Integrating a Chemicals Perspective into the Global Plastic Treaty”. Environmental Science & Technology Letters 9(12), 1000-1006 DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00763

Abstract: Driven by the growing concern about plastic pollution, countries have agreed to establish a global plastic treaty addressing the full life cycle of plastics. However, while plastics are complex materials consisting of mixtures of chemicals such as additives, processing aids, and nonintentionally added substances, it is at risk that the chemical aspects of plastics may be overlooked in the forthcoming treaty. This is highly concerning because a large variety of over 10,000 chemical substances may have been used in plastic production, and many of them are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment. In this Global Perspective, we further highlight an additional, generally overlooked, but critical aspect that many chemicals in plastics hamper the technological solutions envisioned to solve some of the major plastic issues: mechanical recycling, waste-to-energy, chemical recycling, biobased plastics, biodegradable plastics, and durable plastics. Building on existing success stories, we outline three concrete recommendations on how the chemical aspects can be integrated into the global plastic treaty to ensure its effectiveness: (1) reducing the complexity of chemicals in plastics, (2) ensuring the transparency of chemicals in plastics, and (3) aligning the right incentives for a systematic transition.

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