Less than half of the 280 million metric tons of plastic produced each year ends up in the landfill. A fair bit of the rest ends up littering the landscape, blown by the wind or washed down streams and rivers into the sea.
So far Americans spend $520 million a year to clean up plastic litter washing up on West Coast beaches and shorelines. Efforts to clean up the oceans’ enormous swirling gyres of garbage has an incalculable cost. Thus, much of the focus has been on how to stop the river of trash from entering the ocean.
A team of 10 scientists has come up with an idea of how to make that happen: reclassify the most harmful plastic waste as hazardous material. That simple adjustment, the scientists write in the journal Nature, could trigger sweeping changes in how environmental agencies clean up plastic waste, spur innovation in polymer research and replace problematic plastics with safer ones.
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