Table 1.

Synthesis of current knowledge, uncertainty and recommended actions relevant to environmental and human health concerns arising from current production, use and disposal of plastics.

established knowledgeconcerns and uncertaintyrecommendations for industry, research and policy
production and useplastics are inexpensive, lightweight, versatile, water resistant and durable
annual growth in plastic production is approximately 9% (currently >260 Mt yr−1)
around 8% of world oil production is used to make plastics
plastics bring extensive societal, human health and environmental benefits
>33% of production is used for disposable items of packaging
is our usage of hydrocarbons for plastics sustainable?
to what extent could biopolymers replace oil-based plastics?
is there sufficient arable land for production of biomass (crops) required for biopolymers?
to what extent does use of plastic powders as cleaning abrasives, and scrubbers results in direct release of particles to environment?
increase/incentivize material reduction and reuse
construct life cycle analysis of production, disposal/recycling of major polymers (including biopolymers, degradable and biodegradable polymers) and plastic products
develop alternative monomers, polymers and additives using green chemistry approaches
revise international standards for and introduce accurate/informative labelling of recyclable, ‘degradable’, ‘biodegradable’ and compostable polymers
disposal: waste managementplastics are a substantial part of domestic and industrial wastes in landfill
recycling of some polymers (e.g. PET) has increased considerably in recent years, but substantial quantities of plastic waste not compatible with recycling
biodegradable polymers typically require industrial composting and will not readily degrade in landfill
biodegradable plastics can compromise recycling
are current disposal strategies sustainable—lack of space in landfill?
to what extent do chemicals leach from plastic in landfill?
little is known about the degradability or environmental fate of additives used in biodegradable polymers
increase/incentivize product design towards use of recycled feedstock and increased end-of-life recyclability
improve methods to collect and separate plastic waste for recycling
investment in/incentivize recycling operations
standardize labelling so consumers can identify products with high end-of-life recyclability (traffic light system)
research and monitoring of leachates from landfills
disposal: littering and dumpingplastic debris is common in marine habitats worldwide, including poles and deep sea
the abundance of plastic debris is increasing/stabilizing (not declining)
plastic debris is fragmenting, with pieces <20 µm on shorelines and in water column
to what extent will breakdown of plastic debris increase the abundance of small fragments in the environment?
rates of accumulation of debris on land, in freshwaters and in the deep sea are not certain
do biodegradable or compostable plastics degrade in natural habitats?
education/incentives to promote the value of end-of-life plastics as a feedstock for recycling
education and associated enforcement on the wasteful and adverse ecological effects of plastic spillage, dumping and littering
develop standard protocols and monitoring to evaluate trends in the abundance of plastic debris across in natural habitats
cleaning programmes in natural, urban and industrial locations
research on breakdown of degradable and biodegradables
issues relating to wildlife>260 species are known to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris
ingestion is widespread in some populations (>95% of individuals) and can compromise feeding
entanglement in plastic debris can lead to severe injury and death
does ingestion of, or entanglement in, plastic debris have effects at the population level or can such effects combine with other stressors to do so?
to what extent do plastics transport/release chemicals to wildlife?
what are the consequences of the accumulation of small plastic particles (e.g. abrasives from cleaning applications) in the environment?
research to establish the distribution, abundance and environmental consequences of micro- and nano-plastic fragments
research to establish potential for plastics to transport chemicals to food chain
research to establish population-level consequences of ingestion and entanglement
education, monitoring and cleaning (see above)
issues relating to human healthsome plastics contain potentially harmful monomers and additive chemicals, including flame retardants and plasticizers
adverse effects of additives evident in laboratory animals
measurable levels of chemicals used as additives/monomers are present in the human population
Canadian government declared BPA a toxic substance. USA National Toxicology Program expressed concern for adverse health effects
what are the effects of low-dose chronic exposure to chemicals or mixtures of chemicals used as plastic monomers or additives?
dose–response curves may not be monotonic and so should not be extrapolated in risk assessment
conduct cumulative risk assessment/management of plastic additives and monomers
biomonitoring of body burdens of additives/monomers
effects on susceptible subpopulations (babies, children) and on those with high-exposure risks
evaluate effects of exposure to mixtures of additives/monomers
design/validate appropriate species/protocols to assess chronic low dose exposures to additives/monomers by humans