When the U.N. classified chlorofluorocarbons as hazardous in 1989, in order to protect the ozone layer, production of the refrigerants stopped within seven years.
Scientists are calling for a similar classification for a far more ubiquitous material - plastic - in today's online version of the journal Nature.
"We feel that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste - the United States, Europe and China - must act now," they wrote.
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The authors say that such a reclassification could incite changes both in the way plastics are made and disposed of.
Currently, less than half of the plastic produced each year ends up in the landfill, the Los Angeles Times points out.
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The authors, who are from the U.S., Japan, and the U.K., suggest first targeting four of the most potent plastics: polyvinylchloride, or PVC; polystyrene, often known as Styrofoam; polyurethane; and polycarbonate. These plastics are used in making everything from pipes to baby bottles. They are also difficult to recycle.