Debate sobre la gestión de plásticos: “¿residuos contaminados o inertes?” (en inglés)

    • Barry Phillips Smith
      Barry Phillips Smith 

      Independent Environmental Manager & Environmental Sustainability Consultant

      This is intriguing! In the EU, most plastic waste is classified as “inert” (as far as landfills are concerned) and only becomes “hazardous” if contaminated with dangerous substances. Why should beach-collected plastics be classified as hazardous? Are you talking about seaked containers, or just general beach litter

    • Nikki Caputo, garbage SherpaNikki Caputo, garbage Sherpa 

      Graduate Student, Humboldt State University’s Environment and Community Program

      i wasn’t very clear about my inquiry. I am asking for input regarding the following discourse: 

      if plastic waste were to be classified as hazardous material (due to their bioactive and pervasive pollutant behavior) – as some scientists and policy scholars suggest, then what would be some potential (legal/practical) implications as they would pertain to clean-up (by non-experts/community)?

    • Barry Phillips Smith 

      Independent Environmental Manager & Environmental Sustainability Consultant

      OK, imagining if plastics gererally were to fail the threshold test on Eco-toxicity making them Hazardous Waste when they reached end of life (in the EU), then firstly, kerbside collections probably wouldn’t be possible, nor would plastic banks at local authority recycling centres without some widescale changes in legislation to “exempt” plastics from HW legislative control. And without that, you wouldn’t be able to put it into any general waste bin, nor put them into non-Hazardous landfill sites.

      So, firstly making plastics legally “hazardous” might be counter-productive, as making them harder or more costly to recycle or dispose of almost invariably leads to increased illegal disposal, which may well lead to greater littering and environmental pollution of both land and ocean.

      It may be more effective to recognise EoL plastic as a “difficult” non-hazardous waste due to their short & longer term ecological effects as we have in the EU with plasterboard and soils infested with invasive plant material rather than the more stringent “hazardous” classification. This would allow specific controls and restrictions to be defined in law without the application of heavy-weight HW legislation and could then make provision for oceanic and terrestrial decontamination and recycling by volunteer teams such as yourself and your colleagues.

    • Scott DeMuth 

      Vice President, Business Development at g2 revolution, LLC

      Barry is right on – With respect to consumer items and many other goods, it would be an utter disaster – and this is speaking as a recycler handling both hazardous consumer chemical products and traditional commodities such as plastics, so I am comfortable “talking RCRA.” 

      Without changing other legal parameters (at least in the US), you now create all kinds of liability issues that would likely reduce or eliminate the appetite for municipalities to encourage plastics collection. Same for private industry – Restaurants, for example, would have to somehow handle “hazardous waste” plastics at each franchise, training busboys and servers on RCRA (as per regulatory requirements for employee training). Small business would have fits about it, as their CESQG status could change to SGQ status due to plastic poundage generated per month. 

      Collection of recyclables would end without significant legislative protection against liability for the “hazardous” plastic. If it’s hazardous waste – at least in the US – there is a whole CERCLA/liability thing that follows afterword legally. 

      I recommend reviewing the debate over whether the EPA should regulate coal ash as hazardous waste for parallels. One of the big arguments against regulation of coal ash as hazardous waste is that coal ash-derived waste materials are sometimes used to make new building products. However, it has been asserted that the market for buying recycled building materials made from coal ash waste would collapse if they were being made with regulated “hazardous waste.” Who wants to take the risk of being in the chain of liability? 

      As it is, RCRA is already very difficult to work with for recycling pathways because the law was designed in the 1970s when hazardous waste was the game. So as recycling has grown, EPA has basically “patched” recycling exemptions and exceptions into it so much that it is now an utter mess (look up how waste electronics has been handled in RCRA and prepare to cross your eyes…). In other words, it was designed as a hazardous waste law, not as a recycling law, and it carries all those flaws from that initial design approach. You get what you start from… 

      Plus, the US states can be more restrictive once it is regulated, so you can then have 50 states’ worth of additions to the Federal regulations if it became hazardous waste. So one large state then goes crazy on the plastic hazardous waste regulations (hmmm… California?) and suddenly, no one wants to recycle the plastic anymore… 

      Multi-state companies, in particular, often try to keep their policies and training uniform across jurisdictions (think Walmart, Target, OfficeMax, Best Buy, etc.). We’re talking millions of employees who would have to follow the various rules. So, what happens? Everyone just defaults to the most conservative, most straightforward approach – incinerate the hazardous waste. 
      As another example of why hazardous waste regulation isn’t always the answer – US EPA universal waste. EPA realized that some wastes can be found everywhere (batteries, etc.), and regulating the hell out of them was creating a disincentive to recycling, so they actually reduced RCRA regulations, acknowledging the unintended consequences of hazardous waste designation.
      Last point – Don’t forget that recycling is often a business of pennies to the pound. You put in an extra few cents’ worth of regulations and paperwork, and now a plastic is no longer valuable enough to want to recycle it…

    • Stacia AshStacia Ash 


      This is a very interesting concept…my mind jumps to several things…first being that perhaps it will help reduce plastic ocean litter, second the requirement of “cradle to grave’ mangement of plastics like the other hazardous wates seems a bit extreme given the inert toxicity of plastics, third I just cannot decide if it would be a burden to the system or help create solutions with innovations in alt materials or less toxic materials or lighter or more degradable etc plastic materials or….very interesting topic, I’ll say!

      • Scott DeMuthScott DeMuth Vice President, Business Development at g2 revolution, LLC
    • We must keep in mind that “plastics” is a high-level term for a very broad range of materials. Thus, if you regulate “plastics” as hazardous waste, it is like regulating “ceramics” or “metals” as hazardous waste.

      There are synthetic petroleum plastics as well as plastics made from plants. Then there are other considerations besides disposal:

      So do you regulate synthetic plastic as hazardous waste, but not plant-derived? Or does not matter?

    • Barry Phillips SmithBarry Phillips Smith 

      Independent Environmental Manager & Environmental Sustainability Consultant

      In the context of this discussion, the origin of a specific plastic is not the issue – it’s physical impact on wildlife / ocean health etc is the concern and the factor that makes it eco-toxic, not it’s origins or manufacturing process. So, on that basis, any plastic that exceeds a specific impact threshold would be similarly classified. I could also foresee different “impacts” being tested – for example ingestion by ocean wildlife, or entanglement, as well as chemical composition – which would result in physical characteristics being an issue as well as the materials from which they are made . However, none of the “shape” impacts would be an issue once washed up on a shoreline and collected by a volunteer team. 
      I can’t help thinking that over-regulation at this stage may be counter-productive, given that with the rising price of oil, (and the recent lab trials that showed that recovery of plastic-derived liquid fuels – petroleum, diesel, etc – can exceed 80% of the weight of the source plastic) is likely to result in even oceanic plastic having an asset value in the not too distant future, making “mining” of discarded plastic waste a commercial proposition. 

      To my mind, this holds greater potential to reduce oceanic pollution by plastics than increased regulation.

    • Barry Phillips SmithBarry Phillips Smith 

      Independent Environmental Manager & Environmental Sustainability Consultant

      Here’s a link to the lab trials I mentioned:

    • Richard Tanfield- Johnson BEng, MSc, ICIOB, SIIRSM, LCIWMRichard Tanfield- Johnson BEng, MSc, ICIOB, SIIRSM, LCIWM 

      Director at IT-Green®- WEEE ATF, Waste Management & Environmental Consultant

      Think it should be noted that the US (EPA) and EU comission both approach such issues from very different angles and this is one area where the US would have to lead the rest of the world. The Precautionary principle applies in this instance and is, from recollection, the cornerstone of US environmental law, whether that’s through the EPA of FDA.


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