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Plastics BAN (Better Alternatives Now) List 2016

This report provides an analysis of the most harmful plastic products used in California and call-to-action to phase them out through the use of readily-available alternatives. The “Plastics BAN (Better Alternatives Now) List,” launched by 5 Gyres, Clean Production Action, the Surfrider Foundation and the Upstream Policy Institute (UPSTREAM), is the first compilation of four datasets detailing the types of plastic pollution found in the state’s environment. It determines the top 15 offenders, which include food wrappers and containers, plastic bottle caps, and plastic bags.

In addition to its specific analysis of products, the report reaches several general conclusions:

  1. Most of the worst offenders are designed for “on-the-go” applications, which are more likely to end up as pollution in the environment. Virtually all of the products on the BAN List are “to-go” products like takeout containers, coffee lids, beverage bottles and straws.
  2. More recycling will not solve plastic pollution. Nearly all of the 15 products on the BAN List have no economic value in today’s recycling systems. They are literally “designed for the dump” and are often contaminants in recycling systems, either damaging equipment and causing costly repairs when they enter recycling facilities (like plastic bags) or ending up as a net cost for recyclers to unload at a loss (like polystyrene) rather than as profitable materials.
  3. Many of the BAN List products are manufactured with toxic chemicals, and none of the plastics used are examples of green chemistry. Many of the products are made from polystyrene, a probable human carcinogen. Other plastics contain harmful additives like PET, which uses a toxic heavy metal – antimony – as a catalyst in the production process. None of the products are manufactured according to green chemistry principles.
  4. Better alternatives to BAN List products are available today for nearly every single harmful plastic use. When the four non-profits conducted an assessment of functional replacements and material substitutions for the harmful plastic products, their researchers found that safer, more sustainable alternatives were widely available today. We do not need to wait for technological “fixes” to solve plastic pollution. We can start by moving to better alternatives now that deliver the same product or service without the harm.
  5. More data needs to be collected on pollution in the environment and the identity of responsible producers. Data collection methods should be standardized. The researcher discovered that different entities collected pollution data in different ways. For example, one institution might lump all plastic cups together, while another might differentiate between hard plastic cups and foam cups. It’s important for the scientific community to standardize pollution research methods and categories and to increase monitoring of plastic in the environment and to identify the product producers for transparent discussions on producer responsibility.
  6. The BAN List is a good place to start for voluntary action by industry and regulatory action by government. Plastic pollution can start to be reduced with voluntary and regulatory action to replace the worst offenders with better alternatives now. The BAN List methodology can be applied and replicated in other jurisdictions to come up with similar target lists for action.

Read Sustainable Brands' article on this report.

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