Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plastic Waste as Hazardous?

There is nothing like seeing this article,"Classify Plastic Waste as Hazardous", to get my blood boiling. And it's only 7:30 AM. And it's published in Nature. And there is a PR cavalcade to go with it so it has already been picked up by the LA Times and the BBC. Others will soon follow.

What a horrible little article. It's full of emotional pleas, overreaching statements and conclusions... I can't even begin to correct it all. The irony to me, is that it was published in Nature. I say irony, because at least when I used to have a personal subscription to that journal, more often than not it arrived in a plastic bag which was immediately torn open and put in the trash. So the authors have decided to publish in a journal that generates "hazardous waste". But let's overlook that, as sometimes even pacifists have to take up arms.

Before you even get to the text, there is this picture, designed to give you the impression that most or all of our lakes and oceans are like this. They are not.

They have to use such a picture as a true picture of trash in the ocean gyres is dreadfully boring. There's really nothing there much to look at unless you get out a magnifying glass. The Scripps Institute has taken this picture:

but that doesn't really get you all emotional, does it? As it has been described before, the "Great Garbage Patches" are not islands, but galaxies, mostly filled with empty space (or salt water in this case).

Let's look at the first sentence
"Last year, 280 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Less than half of it was consigned to landfill or recycled. Of the remaining 150 million tonnes, some may still be in use;"(emphasis added)
This simpleton math - (X tonnes produced - Y tonnes landfilled/recycled = Z tonnes pollution) is applicable if and only if all plastics are consumable. But they aren't. The authors hint that some MAY still be in use, but they really didn't look into it. So I think we can assume that they then wrote this article without the use of computers (or maybe they use a wood mouse and keyboard, and they have bare metal wiring for the electricity and ethernet connections), that they sit on wood chairs (without any urethane or acrylic coatings and most certainly without foam cushions) and there are no synthetic fibers in their clothing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the authors are trying to avoid plastics like some people do - it's just that they don't know any uses of durable plastics and I'm pointing them out.

Or how about this howler:
"We believe that manufacturers of plastic, along with the food and textile industries that rely heavily on it, should have to prove that their products and packaging are safe."
You mean they don't already? These authors seriously think this? All that time I've spent worrying about direct and indirect food contact testing, and now I find out that I never had to do any of it? Or that equivalent time I submitted samples for cytotoxicity and animal testing? You mean the FDA was only joking that they wanted the information that my coatings were safe? I sure have egg on my face.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. The article is a worthless pile of trash that should itself be considered as potential hazardous waste due to the pollution that it will introduce into certain minds. The article isn't even worth responding to with a direct letter to the editor of Nature.


Chemjobber said...

You missed the stonkering and non-sensical claim that:

"Seabirds that have consumed plastic waste have 300% greater concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their tissues than other birds."


blobert said...

I happen to live in and have dived in an area that has a gyre of trash from a very wasteful place. Until you've seen one, you wouldn't know. Yes, when you look from the surface, you may or may not see large deposits of flotsam but under the surface you'll find lots of trash. In some areas, the surface flotsam is extraordinary. Beaches where storms and winds direct portions of the gyre waste become saturated with it. You really should get out more.

John said...


The Ocean Gyres are well removed from any mainland. You may have dived in one, but you don't live in one.

Also, Stiv Wilson of the 5 Gyres Institute and I are in agreement that the dilution of the plastics is a horrible aspect of the problem. If it was concentrated enough (extraodinary to use your word), then it would be feasible to collect the plastics and recycle them.

No such luck, and so we suffer on.