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Plastic recycling will allow children’s toys and food packaging to contain rare metals

Dr. Andrew Turner.Credit: University of Plymouth

According to new research, some of the rarest metals on earth used in the manufacture of smartphones and other electrical equipment are increasingly found in everyday consumer plastics.


Scientists at the University of Plymouth and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have tested a variety of new and used products, including children’s toys, office equipment, and cosmetic containers.

Through some detailed assessments, they examined not only the level of rare earth elements (REE), but also the amount of bromine and antimony used as flame retardants in electrical equipment, and signs of the presence of recycled electronic plastics. ..

As a result, one or more REEs were detected in 24 of the 31 products tested. This includes items that are not regulated and are prohibited from recycling, such as disposable food packaging.

They were most commonly observed in samples containing insufficient levels of bromine and antimony to exhibit flame retardancy, but were also found in plastics in the absence of these chemicals.

It has also been found on beach marine plastics, and the authors of the study suggest that there is evidence that REE is a ubiquitous and prevalent pollutant in both modern and historic consumer and environmental plastics. I am.

Research published in Comprehensive environmental scienceIs the first company to systematically explore a complete suite of consumer plastic REEs.

Although previously discovered in a variety of environments such as groundwater, soil and air, this study found extensive REE contamination of “Plastisphere” that appears to be unrelated to a single source or activity. Is shown.

Dr. Andrew Turner, an associate professor (leader) of environmental science at the University of Plymouth and the lead author of the study, said: “Rare earth elements have a variety of important uses in modern electronics due to their magnetic, phosphorescent, and electrochemical properties, but they are not intentionally added to plastics to perform their function. The presence of is likely to be the result of mechanical separation of recoverable components and accidental contamination during processing.

“The health effects of chronic exposure to small amounts of these metals are unknown, but they have been found at higher levels in foods, tap water, and certain medicines. That is, plastics are common. It is unlikely to represent an important vector of exposure to people, but they could imply the presence of other, more widely known and well-studied chemical additives and residues that are the source of concern. There is sex. “

This study is the latest study by Dr. Turner, investigating the presence of toxic substances in everyday consumer products, marine debris, and the wider environment.

In May 2018, he said that toxic chemicals such as bromine, antimony, and lead penetrated food contacts and other household items as manufacturers use recycled electrical equipment as a source of black plastic. I showed that I was there.

His work was part of a successful application for the university to receive the Queen’s Memorial Award for Higher Education and Continuing Education for its pioneering research on microplastic pollution.

It is also based on previous work at the university, where scientists blended smartphones to demonstrate the amount of rare or so-called “competitive” elements in each product.


Recycled appliances can cause harmful chemicals to appear in daily necessities


For more information:
Andrew Turner et al, Rare Earth Element of Plastics, Comprehensive environmental science (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.scitotenv.2021.145405

Provided by University of Plymouth

Quote: Children’s toys and food packaging acquired on February 17, 2021 from https: //phys.org/news/2021-02-plastic-recycling-results-rare-metals by recycling plastics (2 2021) Rare metal was found on May 17th). html

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Plastic recycling will allow children’s toys and food packaging to contain rare metals

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