Because of their convenience, the demand for decorative plastic plants has been increasing over recent years. However, no information exists on the origin or nature of the polymers employed or the type of additives used in order to understand potential environmental impacts and inform safe and sustainable disposal or recycling practices. In this study, 203 parts or offcuts from 175 plastic plants acquired from European shops and venues have been analysed by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to determine elemental content, while a selection has been analysed by infrared spectrometry to establish polymer type. The (usually green) moulded components (n = 159) were commonly constructed of polyethylene or polypropylene, while leaves and colourful petals (n = 40) were generally made of polyethylene terephthalate fabric that had been glued to the moulded component. However, both components also exhibited evidence of being coated with a resin or adhesive for support, protection or appearance. Barium, Fe, Ti and Zn-based additives were commonly encountered but more important from an environmental and health perspective were variable concentrations of potentially hazardous elements in the moulded parts: namely, Br (6.1 to 108,000 mg kg−1; n = 78), Pb (7.6 to 17,400 mg kg−1; n = 53) and Sb (58.6 to 70,800 mg kg−1; n = 17). These observations suggest that many of the moulded components are derived from recyclates that are contaminated by waste electronic and electrical plastic, introducing brominated flame retardants, the flame retardant synergist, Sb2O3, and Pb into the final product. There are no standards for these chemicals in plastic plants, but regulations for electronic plastic, toy safety and packaging are frequently exceeded or potentially exceeded. Widespread contamination of plastic plants may impose constraints on their recycling and disposal.



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Science of the Total Environment





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School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences