finance & economy

Plastic products sold on Tunisian, Arab and African markets contain hazardous chemicals (report)

May 28, 2022

TAP)- Many toys and other products made from recycled plastic sold in Tunisia and other African and Arab countries contain concentrations of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), a mixture of toxic chemicals, at levels equivalent to hazardous waste, according to a report published on May 24, 2022 by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) and the Arnika Organisation.

According to the two environmental organisations' new report, dozens of studies have linked these chemicals to cancer, adverse effects on children's brain development, infertility and other serious health problems.

The highest level of a brominated flame retardant called 'HBCD' (49 ppm - part per million) was found in a knife handle from Tunisia, where independent laboratory tests revealed high levels of toxic non-flammable chemicals and brominated dioxins, including substances banned under international agreements.

The chemical was also found in toys, kitchen utensils and other consumer products made from recycled plastics, according to the report, which was produced in collaboration with eleven environmental organisations, including the Tunisian Organisation of Environmental Education for Future Generations (French: AEEFG).

Tests of products purchased in Tunisia and 10 other African and Arab countries also showed that 61 products contained levels of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) above protective limits.

Ten of the 61 black plastic products purchased on the Tunisian market, including toys, hair accessories, kitchen utensils and others, contain BFRs, according to the analysis.

Risks of poisoning the circular economy

Experts from the report's co-author organisations, which campaign for the elimination of pollutants and toxics worldwide, warned of the threats of poisoning the circular economy with recycled plastics.

They called to set strict limits on toxic chemicals in waste, as proposed by African countries to ensure that Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) do not contaminate the recycling chain.

Careful monitoring is recommended

'A consequent contamination by BFRs of products on the Tunisian market should be an alert for a careful control by Tunisia.

“This study does not target all the brominated chemicals contained in the analysed products. The black plastic products may contain more BFRs, as well as their metabolites that were not on the list of chemical analyses targeted by the study,” the report indicated.

“These products, containing in the majority of cases very high levels of BFRs, would cause additional problems when they in turn become waste and will be classified as hazardous waste under the international Stockholm Convention.”

“As there is no sufficient capacity in Tunisia for the safe disposal of waste, particularly the disposal of POPs-containing

waste, black plastic products may end up in an unsafe landfill or incinerated.”

“Unsafe plastic recycling contains a much wider range of BFRs, which are present in products made from recycled e-waste and plastic from end-of-life vehicles.

Proposed solutions

IPEN, Arnika (which works on heavy metals and phthalates in different environmental compartments) and the eleven organisations co-authoring the report, including AEEFG-Tunisia, called for lower and stricter POPs content limits to be applied to waste. The aim is to stop the flow of e-waste and plastic from end-of-life vehicles to new recycled plastic products.

“Countries around the world should call for stricter limits for POPs in waste in the Basel and Stockholm Conventions, which will help prevent the use of recycled plastics containing BFRs and dioxins.

Environmental organisations are calling for a low POPs level of 50 ppm as proposed for the Basel Convention and African countries.

Electronic waste and plastics from end-of-life vehicles containing high levels of toxic flame retardants should be banned from entering the recycling chain, according to the report's co-authors.

“The loophole that allows the export of non-functional electronic devices under the Basel Convention must also be closed by law. Stricter standards for the definition of hazardous waste must be established under the Basel and Stockholm Conventions.”

Moreover, BFRs should be listed as a separate class under the Stockholm Convention. The addition of these chemicals could continue to put human health at risk for decades, the report's authors warn.

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