Recycling end-of-life materials may be perpetuating toxic chemicals in new products

A researcher from the Canadian Environmental Law Association and paralegal, Fe de Leon, recently co-published a paper with HEJSupport International Co-Director Olga Speranskaya to bring public attention to toxic chemicals that appear in new products made out of recycled materials.  The authors of the paper argue that many countries have made investments into achieving progress towards a circular economy, but little or no attention is paid on toxic chemicals that appear in new products made out of recycled materials. The paper cites a growing body of evidence of how a circular economy fails to address concerns regarding toxic chemicals in products.

Fe de Leon, Researcher and Paralegal, CELA

In the paper, the authors cite a 2017 study prepared by IPEN, an environmental activist organization that focuses on synthetic chemicals, which revealed elevated concentrations of globally targeted toxic flame retardants in plastic toys.  The IPEN study claimed to have found elevated concentrations of toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in samples of plastic toys purchased in different stores in Canada and other 25 countries globally.  The study further stated that the levels of some chemicals were more than five times higher than recommended international limits.  These chemicals include PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) such as octabromodiphenyl ether (OctaBDE), decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE); and SCCPs (short chain chlorinated paraffins).  They are listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and are internationally banned or restricted due to their hazardous characteristics.  They all are persistent, highly toxic, travel long distances and build up in the food chain.  However, their presence in new products, although they are banned or restricted, opens up the discussion of a problem regarding recycling as a key component of a circular economy.

The paper concludes that product recycling and a focus on a circular economy should be encouraged.  However, material flows should be free from hazardous chemicals, at the minimum those chemicals which have already been regulated under the international treaties.

Olga Speranskaya, HEJSupport International Co-Director, IPEN CoChair