01 September 2013

EcoWaste Coalition Finds Toxic Lead in 2,300 Yellow Plastic Sando Bags


 Yellow sando bags with lead (top).
Yellow sando bags with low or non-detectable lead (bottom).

An environmental network campaigning for reduced consumption and disposal of plastic bags has found excessive levels of lead and other restricted chemicals in most yellow plastic sando bags on sale in Manila.

To generate data that will further bolster the urgency of implementing Manila’s plastic bag ban ordinance signed by former Mayor Alfredo Lim on September 3, 2012, the EcoWaste Coalition bought and analyzed some 4,300 pieces of plastic carry bags to determine compliance with toxics in packaging control.

“Our findings confirm that plastic bags represent a real menace to human and ecological health. The threat comes not only from the huge amount of discarded plastic bags blocking waterways, aggravating floods and choking dumpsites, but also from their toxic chemical ingredients that get dispersed into the environment, contaminating the food chain and, ultimately, our bodies,” said Sonia Mendoza of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Zero Waste Committee.

After a year-long moratorium, Manila is readying itself to implement City Ordinance 8282 that will, among others, prohibit the use of plastic bags for dry goods and regulates their use for wet goods.

“By taking firm action to curb the indiscriminate use and disposal of plastic bags, Mayor Erap Estrada and the government and people of Manila will surely contribute to diminishing such a toxic threat to humans and the ecosystems,” she pointed out.

Plastic sando bags of various sizes representing 23 brands (mostly packed in bags of 100 pieces) were purchased from plastic bag wholesalers and retailers in Divisoria, Paco, Quiapo and Sampaloc, Manila on August 29-31 and screened for toxic metals using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.

While plastic sando bags are available in other colors, the group limited their sampling to yellow-colored ones as similar studies abroad had indicated lead in such bags due to the use of lead chromate to color plastics.

As per XRF analysis, 2,300 of the 4,300 pieces of yellow sando bag samples, representing 13 brands, exceeded the allowable level of 100 parts per million (ppm) by weight for toxic metals, particularly lead, restricted under the US model toxics in packaging legislation.

Lead, a potent neurological, reproductive and developmental toxin and an endocrine disrupting chemical, was detected in levels ranging from 106 to 5,680 ppm, with average lead content at 1,313 ppm.

“Mercury” yellow sando bags, for example, had 69 ppm of mercury, 1,170 ppm of chromium and 5,680 ppm of lead, the highest among the samples.

The 13 brands of yellow plastic sando bags found to contain lead include: Capricorn, Centrum, Cheetah, Mercury, Oriental Star, Pinoy Brothers, Sunshine, Star, Supreme, Swimmer, Unique, White Dove and Winner.

On the other hand, Astig, Batang Pinoy, JR, Super Mega, Mr. Divisoria, Royal Jade, Saturn, Star Bag, Super Sonik and Walrus plastic bags showed low or non-detectable levels of lead. However, the EcoWaste Coalition would not regard these bags as eco-friendly, pointing out that all single-use disposable bags – plastic or otherwise – use and deplete natural resources and energy and spawn pollution from production to disposal, while reinforcing wasteful, throw-away behavior.

Two discards surveys conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Mother Earth Foundation and other green groups in 2006 and 2010 showed plastic bags constituting 51.4 and 27.7 percent, respectively, of the flotsam in Manila Bay.

According to studies, consumers across the globe use 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags per year, which translate to about a million bags every minute or 150 bags a year for every person on earth.
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