NEW: Plastic packaging contains thousands of chemicals, including hundreds of hazardous substances

At least 148 substances in plastic packaging are highly hazardous and many compounds are untested for toxicity and/or unknown.

Plastic packaging is associated with more than 4,000 different chemicals, including at least 148 highly hazardous substances, as new results from an ongoing scientific research project show. The first project output includes a freely accessible database on chemicals associated with Plastic Packaging (CPPdb) containing information on 4,283 chemicals. 148 hazardous substances associated with plastic packaging were identified from the database based on their hazard for human health and the environment.

"Many of these chemicals were characterized as carcinogens, mutagens, or endocrine disruptors; others are known to be toxic to reproduction," said Dr. Jane Muncke, Managing Director of the Food Packaging Forum Foundation and a Plastic Pollution Coalition advisor. 

Importantly, severe data and information gaps exist with respect to the chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic packaging. In addition, plastic packaging can contain impurities, degradation products, and contaminants which cannot be exhaustively compiled because many of these chemicals are simply not known.

The project, aiming to characterize hazardous substances in plastic packaging, is a collaboration between seven academic and non-profit organization partners based in Europe and the U.S. The CPPdb is considered work-in-progress, and will be freely accessible on the Chemical Hazards Data Commons website where information can be contributed and discussed, e.g. on a substance's use in plastic packaging or its toxicity data.

The study: The Food Packaging Forum, together with its project partners, systematically compiled the chemicals associated with Plastics Packaging database (CPPdb) containing 4,283 substances and, where available, information on their toxicity and uses in plastic packaging, as well as additional regulatory information such as authorization for use in food packaging. The study was submitted to the peerreviewed scientific journal Science of the Total Environment on July 13, 2018. It is available as preprint.

The following findings are important to highlight:

  • Many chemicals are associated with plastic packaging: the CPPdb contains 4283 substances, but more chemicals may be intentionally used or present as non-intentionally added substances.
  • For 906 substances contained in the CPPdb we obtained evidence for their use and/or presence in plastic packaging from publicly accessible records.
  • For a subset of 747 substances (17%) hazard data were available conforming to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), and we ranked these substances for toxicity for both human health and the environment, using a previously published method.
  • 148 substances associated with plastic packaging are ranked as most hazardous for human health and the environment, based on their toxicity, including endocrine disrupting properties as well as a substance’s persistence and bioaccumulation potential.
  • The most hazardous chemicals identified in the CPPdb include 14 phthalates, additives often used as plasticizers in many different types of plastic packaging and with adverse impact on health.
  • Many data and knowledge gaps persist which hamper chemical risk assessment for plastic packaging: lack of information on the use of substances in plastic packaging, data on the levels of chemicals in final plastic articles, and lack of harmonized hazard data for most of the substances.

Thousands of chemicals are associated with plastic packaging, however even a systematic approach to compiling these substances did not yield a comprehensive database as many information and knowledge gaps relating to the chemical composition of plastic packaging persist. Collaboration with industry, as well as authorities and other stakeholders is essential to fill knowledge and information gaps and enable chemical risk assessment based on actual data. This information will also be essential for effective and efficient substitution of the most hazardous substances in plastic packaging.

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