The hazards of a 'hazardous' label

By Don Loepp
Editor

Published: March 1, 2013 1:48 pm ET
Updated: March 1, 2013 2:02 pm ET

Image By: Rich Williams

Last month I posted a story on our website from our sister publication Plastics & Rubber Weekly about a pair of scientists who want governments around the world to classify certain plastic waste as "hazardous." I thought that would be the end of the discussion. But the debate is continuing to get attention, so let's take a closer look.

The issue was raised in the "Comment" column in the periodical Nature. Two California-based graduate students, Chelsea Rochman and Mark Anthony Browne, claimed that labeling some plastics — specifically PVC, polystyrene, polyure­thane and polycarbonate — as hazardous would cut health risks and protect wildlife.

The pair wrote that discouraging use of those polymers "could boost research on new polymers and replace the most problematic materials with safer ones."

The precautionary principle is key to their point — the idea that regulators should take action now and force manufacturers to prove that their materials are safe.

I sympathize with the authors' concern about plastic marine debris. It's a real problem that the global plastics industry was slow to address. But now we're finally starting to see some action. The idea that the answer to this problem is to declare large segments of the plastic industry "hazardous" is, in my opinion, an extreme and unreasonable approach.

First, the safety of PVC, PS, PU and PC have been investigated for years. While the fine details may be debated, the government agencies charged with deciding chemical safety have largely determined that these plastics are not "hazardous."

Second, I don't anticipate that governments will be eager to take on all the legal and regulatory burdens that would result from such a determination. Better to let them focus on materials that clearly are dangerous, rather than keeping them busy with lesser threats.

Is that a common-sense approach? I thought so — and that's why I thought it would be the last word on the subject.

But the idea has legs. I'm seeing more news coverage of the Nature column, including a call for reader comments on the topic from The New York Times' "Rendezvous" blog.

Unfortunately, the fact that two scientists can float an idea like this and have it taken seriously is evidence that the public image of plastics is not nearly as high as many in the industry would like.

Loepp is PN editor and author of "The Plastics Blog."


Comments

The hazards of a 'hazardous' label

By Don Loepp
Editor

Published: March 1, 2013 1:48 pm ET
Updated: March 1, 2013 2:02 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Better tariff strategy needed in India

July 22, 2014 12:39 pm ET

What's the best way for an emerging economy to strengthen an under-developed plastics industry? Protective tariffs around key sectors, or open the...    More

Image

China's education evolution leaves door open for plastics apprenticeships

July 15, 2014 3:03 pm ET

My father didn't get to go to college after high school, thanks to the Cultural Revolution that left China's educational system in disarray.    More

Market Reports

Plastics Recyclers Data Report & Directory

This exclusive MS Excel database contains all the companies from Plastics News' ranking of top North American Recyclers and Brokers by reprocessed volume and also includes a directory with materials processes, services offered and company contact information. Data is based on primary research by PN editorial staff.

Learn more

2014 Injection Molding Industry Report

GROWTH, OPPORTUNITY IN SIGHT FOR INJECTION MOLDERS IN 2014

In the wake of the economic turbulence earlier in this decade, molders today find themselves in much better shape. Molders are gaining a competitive advantage by investing in people, equipment and seeking inroads into new markets on a global scale.

Growth in the injection molding industry is going to be driven by low financing costs and a continued move to reshore some business.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events