Scientists say plastic pollution impact could be irreversible – dpa international


vRubbish disposal and recycling facility in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

Rubbish disposal and recycling facility in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Global plastic pollution is heading for an “irreversible tipping point,” according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science.

Despite worldwide alarm triggered by shocking images of rivers and seas deluged with plastic rubbish, the problem may be already beyond repair, the researchers warned, saying that “rates of plastic emissions globally may trigger effects that we will not be able to reverse.”

Lead author Matthew MacLeod of Stockholm University said plastic “leaks out into the environment everywhere,” including in countries “with good waste-handling infrastructure.”

Even then, recycling has “many limitations,” according to co-author Mine Tekman of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, as wealthy nations ship rubbish “to countries with worse facilities.”

The governments of Malaysia and the Philippines are among those who in recent years have angrily returned shiploads of rubbish dispatched from countries such as Canada and South Korea.

Tekman said production of “virgin plastic” should be capped and exporting waste banned unless the destination has better recycling facilities than the source.

Up to 46 million metric tons of plastics are dumped on land and into rivers and seas each year – a torrent that could double by the middle of the decade and worsen the problem of weathering, when plastic waste is broken down into tiny particles that pollute the food chain.

“Weathering is constantly changing the properties of plastic pollution, which opens new doors to more questions,” said Hans Peter Arp of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.

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