The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has said it disagrees with a call for plastic debris to be re-classified as hazardous waste.
A group of scientists has called for the re-classification in the prominent scientific journal Nature.
The scientists - who included researchers from the University of California; the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara; and Plymouth University - say plastic waste can harm wildlife, is potentially toxic and could absorb pollutants.
Therefore, they said, plastics should be classified as hazardous waste rather than solid waste.
“We believe that if countries classified the most harmful plastics as hazardous, their environmental agencies would have the power to restore affected habitats and prevent more dangerous debris from accumulating,” the scientists wrote, “Ultimately, such a move could boost research into new polymers and replace the problematic ones with safer ones.”
They concluded that if the most “problematic plastics” were re-classified as hazardous, it could reduce the amount of plastics produced from 33 billion tonnes to four billion tonnes by 2050.
However, Peter Davis, director-general of the BPF told MRW: “Used plastics cannot be classified as hazardous waste. They are inert.”
He said that the real issue was why used plastics end up on beaches and in the oceans. He said the main culprits were: bad landfill management, beach visitors, illegal dumping at sea and fishing litter.
Davis added: “Our industry does not put it there. We don’t want it landfilled, dumped or littered, we want it back for recycling. We want to work with all stakeholders to prevent plastics getting into the marine environment.”
Chris Dow, the chief executive of plastics reprocessor Closed Loop Recycling, told MRW: “I would think a more practical approach to be education, publicity and the development of ‘on the go recycling’ infrastructure to ensure the material did not litter in the first place.”
Gavin Shuker, shadow waste minister said: “Plastics continue to have an important role to play in helping to reduce carbon emissions, but need to be disposed of in a responsible way. We should focus on retaining more in the UK for reprocessing, not exported and dumped; and banning their use in products like exfoliating soaps where they are shown to be particularly harmful to marine life. Neither of these actions require them to be reclassified as hazardous, but both require government leadership and action.”