Plymouth scientist joins campaign over 'dangerous' plastic
SCIENTISTS are calling for plastic waste to be officially classed as hazardous because of its effect on people and wildlife.
Hundreds of species, many of them critically endangered, eat or get entangled in plastic, Richard Thompson, Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University, said yesterday.
Prof Thompson is one of the authors of a report in the respected science journal 'Nature'.
They said that millions of tonnes of plastic litter the world's coastlines because waste policies are out of date.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
The team of international academics argued that if the most harmful plastics were classed as hazardous, environmental agencies would be able to use government funds to restore affected habitats and help to prevent dangerous debris from accumulating.
Prof Thompson is the only UK scientist involved in the report.
He has previously conducted research showing that plastics are swallowed by a range of marine organisms, including invertebrates and fish, and that this could lead to the transfer of potentially harmful chemicals.
"We have shown that more than 370 species, including some that are critically endangered, ingest or become entangled in plastic debris," he said.
Pieces of plastic debris can kill or injure ecologically and commercially important species, including mussels, salt-marsh grasses and corals, the report's authors said.
Mammals, reptiles and birds can also be harmed through eating or becoming entangled in it.
They also said that in spite of recycling rates increasing worldwide, that often involves burning plastics which can generate pollutants and greenhouse gases.
"Many people think that replacing materials such as wood and glass with plastic to make goods lighter can help to address climate change.
"However, the benefits must be balanced against the negative impacts of plastics so that they are used only when they have smaller carbon and ecological footprints than alternatives," the report said.
The report's authors – who are based at Universities in the UK, United States, Japan and Greece – said they recognised introducing such constraints on an industry which was worth $1trillion in the United States alone, and supported millions of jobs worldwide, would be controversial.
The scientists said there was a precedent set with the legislation taken to ban CFCs, which led to a global halt in the production of around 30 dangerous chemicals.
"The physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of the chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste – the United States, Europe and China – must act now," the report said.
"With a change in plastics categorisation, numerous affected habitats could immediately be cleaned up under national legislation and using Government funds."
The full report is on the 'Nature' website, www.nature.com.