A new global survey finds that recycling plastics containing toxic flame retardant chemicals found in electronic waste results in contamination of the world’s best-selling toy. Ironically, the chemical contaminants can damage the nervous system and reduce intellectual capacity but are found in Rubik’s Cubes – a puzzle toy designed to exercise the mind.
The study was performed by IPEN (www.ipen.org) and Arnika (www.english.arnika.org). The toxic chemicals, OctaBDE, DecaBDE, and HBCD, are used in the plastic casings of electronic products and if they are not removed, they are carried into new products when the plastic is recycled.
The survey of products from 26 countries found that 90% of the samples contained OctaBDE or DecaBDE. Nearly half of them (43%) contained HBCD. These chemicals are known to harm the reproductive system and disrupt hormone systems, adversely impacting intelligence, attention, learning and memory.
“Toxic chemicals in electronic waste should not be present in children’s toys,” said Leslie Adogame, SRADev Nigeria. “This problem needs to be addressed globally and nationally.”
The study emerges just days before the Stockholm Convention will decide whether to continue allowing the recycling of materials containing OctaBDE and possibly make a new recycling exemption for DecaBDE. The treaty’s expert committee has warned against the practice.
“Recycling materials that contain toxic chemicals contaminates new products, continues exposure, and undermines the credibility of recycling,” said Pam Miller, IPEN Co-chair. “Governments should end this harmful loophole.”
Another critical decision of the Stockholm Convention Conference will be to establish hazardous waste limits. Protective hazardous waste limits would make wastes subject to the treaty’s obligations for destruction – and not permit their recycling. Surprisingly, some of the toxic chemical levels in children’s products in this study exceeded proposed hazardous waste limits.
“We need protective hazardous waste limits,” said Jitka Strakova, Arnika. “Weak standards mean toxic products and dirty recycling, which often takes place in low and middle income countries and spreads poisons from recycling sites into our homes and bodies.”
The application of strict hazardous limits is also critical for brominated flame retardants due to their presence in e-waste. The Stockholm Convention standards are an important regulatory tool in many countries.