Mr Stanley Okwara and his colleagues addressing a press conference.

By Marie-Therese Nanlong

To ensure a toxics-free future, the Centre for Earth Works, CFEW and the International Pollutants Elimination Network, IPEN have advocated the reduction of plastic production and finding of a viable alternative to plastic because recycling is not a solution to the plastics crisis in the country.

The groups insisted that recycled High-Density Polyethylene, HDPE pellets contain a wide variety of chemicals as contaminants and impurities that are not directly added to the plastics during the recycling process and the presence of these chemicals in the recycled pellets spreads toxic chemicals uncontrollably.

Addressing journalists in Jos on Thursday, Stanley Okwara, a Research Associate with CFEW and IPEN Youth Co-Chair disclosed that recycling plastics now means recycling toxic chemicals and protecting the human rights to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the intentional use of toxic chemicals in plastics must be eliminated.

His words, “CFEW is sharing with the media the result findings discovered from an analysis published in 2023 by IPEN titled: Widespread Chemical Contamination of Recycled Plastic Pellets Globally. This publication looked at chemicals in recycled plastic pellets collected by IPEN member groups from 24 countries, including Nigeria. The study identified 491 chemicals in the recycled plastic, including pesticides, industrial chemicals, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and other toxic substances.

“The results add to the increasing evidence that plastic recycling spreads toxic chemicals uncontrollably and is not a solution to the plastics crisis. In 2020, CFEW in Nigeria and other NGO groups from 24 countries visited local,
small-scale recycling facilities in their various countries and purchased sample bags of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pellets since they are the most commonly used and recycled types of plastics.

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“HDPE is used in the production of a wide range of plastics such as plastic pipes; plastic lumber for playgrounds; picnic tables and outdoor patios;
non-food bottles such as detergent containers, cleaning products, conditioners, and shampoos; and children’s toys. 28 samples of pellets were analyzed for the presence of
the chemical bisphenol A and several chemicals from the two groups of brominated flame retardants and benzotriazole UV stabilizers.

“The analysis showed that more than half of the samples (54%) contained 11 or more chemicals, and 21 pellet samples contained all three targeted groups of chemicals covered. All the pellet samples contained one or more of the targeted chemicals. Overall chemicals detected in all the recycled pellets included six pesticides, six personal care products, and four pharmaceuticals, in addition to plastic additives and industrial

“The most commonly detected types of chemicals were pesticides/biocides
(162 chemicals) and pharmaceuticals (89 chemicals). None of these chemicals are intentionally added to the plastics but are present as a result of contamination. Only 45
of the chemicals detected are categorized as plastic additives.”

He explained “The results show that recycled HDPE pellets contain a wide variety of chemicals as contaminants and impurities not directly added to the plastic during the recycling process, as well as additives that serve no purpose in the recycled pellets… The presence of these chemicals in the recycled pellets highlights the concern that plastic recycling and waste workers are likely being exposed to toxic chemicals at work…

“Recycling has been put forward as a solution to the plastics crisis. However, due to the addition of toxic plastic chemicals (both the process chemicals and a variety of process contaminants), recycling plastics now means recycling toxic chemicals. Therefore, it
constitutes a false solution. Three things are urgently needed to protect the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, including a safe and healthy working environment.

“The intentional use of toxic chemicals in plastics needs to be eliminated, the unintentional presence of toxic chemicals in plastics needs to be prevented, mandatory requirements for making information about the chemical content of plastics and their hazard information publicly available and accessible…”