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The Origin and Recycling of Hazardous Chemicals in Plastic Consumer Products

Event Type
Illinois Sustainable Technology Center
1 Hazelwood Dr. in Champaign (metered and bike parking available and yellow bus stops one block away)
Sep 19, 2019   12:00 - 1:00 pm  
Andrew Turner - Associate Professor in Geochemistry, Pollution and the Environment at the University of Plymouth, UK
Register to view the webinar online
Elizabeth Meschewski
Originating Calendar
Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Events

Abstract: Plastics are easy to manufacture, durable, lightweight and corrosion-resistant, and for the past forty years have been the most used type of material in a wide range of sectors. However, the materials and energy used for their manufacture and both managed and mismanaged disposal have resulted in a variety of environmental impacts. Consequently, the past decade has seen well-publicised drives for a reduction in single-use plastics and an increase in plastic recycling. One problem with recycling some plastics is that historical materials may have contained hazardous additives or residues, such as polybrominated diphenyl ether and polybrominated biphenyl flame retardants, and the heavy metals, cadmium and lead, that have subsequently contaminated the recyclate. In a circular economy, these additives have found their way into new consumer goods where they are neither expected nor desired. One area where this problem is particularly significant and that is illustrated in this presentation is black plastics. Thus, domestic black plastic is not generally recycled because of its incompatibility with current infrared sorting devices. As a result, black plastic for new consumer goods appears to be sourced to a significant extent from electronic waste plastic that has not been screened or separated adequately. Results of x-ray fluorescence analyses of several hundred black plastic consumer goods reveals that many products, including coat-hangers, tool handles, toys and games, apparel, kitchen utensils, food packaging, thermos flasks and items of jewellery, contain significant quantities (sometimes exceeding 100 ug g-1) of brominated flame retardants and/or heavy metals and in signatures consistent with old electronic plastics. In some cases, consumer goods would be non-compliant (and hazardous) with respect to existing directives and regulations on electrical waste. Moreover, and unknown to the consumer, there are also cases where new goods could be classified as hazardous wastes, and conventional incineration may result in the emission of harmful products including brominated dioxins. The wider environmental problems and health risks associated with a circular economy involving contaminated materials are discussed and recommendations to reduce the problems addressed.

Biography: Dr Andrew Turner is an Associate Professor in Geochemistry, Pollution and the Environment at the University of Plymouth, UK. He has thirty years’ research experience in a wide range of disciplines, but his current research interests range from novel applications of XRF, the fate of pharmaceuticals in aquatic systems, marine microplastics, the geochemistry of technology-critical elements, and the recycling of waste plastic. He is currently on the advisory committee for LEAD safe group, is a Member of the International Scientific Committee for Estuarine Biogeochemistry and is on the editorial board for Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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