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When scientists examined pellets from recycled plastic collected in 13 countries they found hundreds of toxic chemicals, including pesticides and pharmaceuticals. 

Because of this, the scientists judge recycled plastics unfit for most purposes and a hinder in the attempts to create a circular economy. Plastic recycling has been touted as a solution to the plastics pollution crisis, but toxic chemicals in plastics complicate their reuse and disposal and hinder recycling, according to these scientists. 

In total, 491 organic compounds were detected and quantified in the pellets, with an additional 170 compounds tentatively annotated. These compounds span various classes, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, plastic additives.

The hazardous chemicals present risks to recycling workers and consumers, as well as to the wider society and environment. Before recycling can contribute to tackling the plastics pollution crisis, the plastics industry must limit hazardous chemicals, the scientists say.

More than 13,000 chemicals used in plastics with 25% classified as hazardous. Scientists state that "no plastic chemical [can be] classified as safe.

Numerous studies show that hazardous chemicals can accumulate even in relatively close-loop plastic recycling systems. We need to rapidly phase-out plastic chemicals that can cause harm to human health and the environment.

Eric Carmona et al, A dataset of organic pollutants identified and quantified in recycled polyethylene pellets, Data in Brief (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.dib.2023.109740

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