New Report: Plastic Chemicals Are More Numerous and Hazardous Than Previously Thought

A new report shows that plastic chemicals are more numerous and hazardous than previously thought. Plastics may contain any mix of more than 16,000 different chemicals, and at least 4,200 (or 26%) of these are highly hazardous to human and environmental health, according to an international team of scientists with the PlastChem Project. More than 400 hazardous chemicals of concern were found present in each major plastic type tested, including food packaging, and all tested plastics contained hazardous chemicals that can leach into food, homes, the environment, and human bodies.

The term “plastic chemicals” encompasses all chemicals detectable in plastics, including additives, processing aids, and impurities. A previous report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international institutions identified 13,000 plastic chemicals. The new PlastChem Report shows that there are more plastic chemicals than previously known, with more than 16,000 chemicals included in the newly launched PlastChem database, which accompanies the report.

This report is unique. It’s a systematic, comprehensive approach to understanding the chemical dimension of plastics, and it offers robust, science-based and future-proof options for responding to this challenge.

— Dr. Jane Muncke, PlastChem co-author and Managing Director at the Food Packaging Forum

To date, information about the chemicals in plastics has been kept largely proprietary by the plastics industry. Experts have had to carefully test plastics to determine which chemicals they contain. The PlastChem project aims to address the fragmented understanding of the chemicals in plastics and their impact on health and the environment. This initiative has created a high-quality, comprehensive state-of-the-science report synthesizing the evidence about chemicals in plastics to inform an evidence-based policy development for better protecting public health and the environment. Objectives of the PlastChem Project include:

  • Compiling a thorough overview of all known plastic chemicals.
  • Identifying plastic chemicals of concern and linking them to specific polymers.
  • Prioritizing plastic chemicals based on hazard, and other scientific, regulatory, and market data.
  • Synthesizing scientific evidence to guide informed policy development.

The existence of the PlastChem Project is especially important as countries are currently negotiating a Global Plastics Treaty to end plastic pollution. A strong treaty must not only require a rapid reduction in plastic production, but it also must address plastic chemicals. Experts with the PlastChem Project stress the need to find new and improved ways to regulate plastic chemicals, including hazard-based identification of groups of plastic chemicals of concern.

Governments across the globe want to tackle the plastics problem. However, this can only be achieved if problematic plastic chemicals are properly dealt with. The report provides the much-needed scientific evidence to make plastics safer for the environment and for us humans.

— Prof. Martin Wagner, coordinator of the PlastChem Project, lead author of the report, and Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Trondheim

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