S ometimes it feels like we are simply drowning in plastic. Over the past five decades plastic products have found their way into almost every aspect of our daily lives. Global plastic production has reached a total of 8bn tonne – that’s 1 tonne for every person currently on the planet – with plastic pollution expected to triple by 2060.
Current best estimates are that only about 10% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. Despite this, the idea of circular economy in the plastics industry is often cited as the magic bullet: we will simply reuse the plastic we have already made and reduce the impact of plastic pollution. But new evidence points to the flaws in this plan. A report by Greenpeace has found that recycled plastic can be even more toxic, and is no fix for pollution.
It is now well known that plastic pollution is ubiquitous across the planet, with evidence of plastic particles being found in the deepest parts of the ocean, from the Mariana Trench to the peak of Mount Everest. There is justified concern about the impact of this pollution, both on ecosystems and human health. However, as an environmental chemist who has been studying plastic in the environment, I am increasingly concerned by a more hidden “invisible” threat posed by plastics: toxic chemicals.