Toxic chemicals from plastic waste poison Indonesian eggs

Written by: Maddie Ballard | Published:
Burning plastics in Indonesia. Image credit: Ecoton, Indonesia

Highly toxic chemicals have been found in dangerous concentrations in free-range eggs from two Indonesian communities that are swamped with plastic waste, the new Plastic Waste Poisons Indonesia’s Food Chain report shows.

In Tropodo, near a tofu factory that burns plastics for fuel, researchers found the second-highest level of dioxins ever measured in eggs.

An adult eating one of the eggs would exceed the European Food Safety Authority tolerable daily intake for chlorinated dioxins by 70 times. Dioxin exposure is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and endometriosis in humans.

The report, which involved researchers from global environmental network IPEN, the Arnika Association, and Indonesian NGOs Nexus3 and Ecoton, showed that the Tropodo levels were comparable to the highest recorded in Asia. These were measured near the Agent Orange hotspot in Bien Hoa, Vietnam.

Meanwhile, eggs collected near a rural plastic dump site in Bangun, where residents burn piles of plastic waste to reduce the rubbish clogging streets, were found to be contaminated by PFOS.

This toxic fluorinated chemical is known as a ‘forever chemical’ and lingers in the environment - and human body - long after its initial production and use.

PFOS levels in these eggs matched those found in highly industrialised areas of Europe, the report showed.

The chemical causes reproductive and immune system damage in humans and has continued to be used in plastic manufacturing, despite its toxicity having been known for decades, internal documents show.

Both the Tropodo and Bangun eggs also contained SCCPs and PBDEs, toxic flame-retardant chemicals used in plastics, which disrupt human endocrine and reproductive health.

All the toxic chemicals found are globally regulated under the Stockholm Convention, a legally binding treaty.

The presence of all these toxic chemicals in the eggs is linked to the mismanagement of plastic waste in Bangun and Tropodo, the report revealed.

Imported plastic waste has flooded into both communities since China stopped accepting plastic waste in 2018. Indonesia’s plastic waste import volume doubled between 2017 and 2018, according to UN data.

Plastic scrap is also entering the country concealed inside paper scrap shipments, and Bangun and Tropodo are particularly hard hit as they are located near paper companies.

In total, the two villages alone receive more than 50 tonnes of low-grade plastic every day - which is now leaching into their food chain.

Speaking to RWW, Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, said: “This is shocking and should never happen. Material should only be exported from the UK to destinations where it will be treated to an equivalent standard, which has clearly not happened here.

“We must redouble our efforts to ensure that all recycling exports are compliant to protect people and the environment.”

The study concludes that its findings support a complete ban on plastic waste combustion, greater control of imports, and stronger regulations nationally and globally.

Yuyun Ismawati, co-founder and senior advisor of Nexus3, said: “Our results should ring alarm bells in every community trying to deal with a tsunami of plastic waste.

“The Global North needs to stop treating the Global South as its waste bin.”

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