Plastics Makers: Litter and Marine Debris Are Solid Waste Management Problems

Contact: Jennifer Killinger (202) 249-6619

Plastic debris, washed off the city streets of Los Angeles, gathers at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Plastic debris, washed off the city streets of Los Angeles, gathers at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON (February 15, 2013) – On February 14, 2013, the journal “Nature” published a commentary calling for plastic waste to be classified as hazardous. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued the following statement, which may be attributed to Steve Russell, vice president of plastics:

“America’s plastics makers agree that litter doesn’t belong in our oceans, waterways or any part of our natural environment. And, the global plastics industry has organized to combat the problem, sponsoring research and working in public-private partnerships. But the suggestions by the commenters in the journal Nature are neither justified nor helpful.

We agree that marine debris deserves serious attention; but it also deserves serious debate. The suggestion to classify plastic as hazardous waste does not reach that mark. The plastic products we use every day—from milk jugs, to food packaging and medical devices—are composed of stable, long-chain polymers. Plastics used in food contact and medical device applications are evaluated for safety by governments around the world. And the plastics identified by the authors as ‘higher priorities’ are used in durable applications (pipes, siding, roofing, refrigerators) which are not generally littered or found in the ocean.

Scientists have long understood that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can bind to organic compounds, such as plastics; what is currently not known is whether pollutants bound to plastics are then bioavailable or a significant route for exposure to marine life. For example, NOAA has stated that ‘POPs have a high affinity for plastic in seawater. This is the basis for several POP sampling techniques, including passive sampling. While this high affinity results in elevated POP concentrations on microplastic particles, these POPs may not be readily bioavailable.

America’s plastics makers agree more research is needed on this subject, and we are supporting a comprehensive scientific review of this issue by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP)2 working with international agencies and NOAA.

Moreover, in December the world’s leading plastics associations issued a Progress Report on the Global Declarationoriginally announced in March 2011 at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference. The Progress Report identifies more than 140 projects to prevent marine litter that are completed, underway or planned around the globe.”

For more information on efforts on marine litter please visit

1 NOAA Key Finding #5

2 Proceedings of the GESAMP International Workshop on Microplastic particles as a vector in transporting persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic substances in the ocean (June 2010)

February 15, 2013 ACC News Releases

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