PlastChem: State of the Science on Plastic Chemicals

Chemicals are a central aspect of the plastics issue. Although there is a wealth of scientific information on plastic chemicals and polymers to inform policymakers, implementing this evidence is challenging because information is scattered and not easily accessible. The PlastChem report and database address this issue by comprehensively and consistently synthesizing the state of the science on plastic chemicals, including their hazard properties, and their presence in polymers. The state-of-the-science report provides the publicly available evidence to inform policy development that protects public health and the environment.

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.

This report investigates the increased manufacturing of PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) through state-sponsored labour transfers in China’s Uyghur Region and the routes by which the resulting building materials make their way into international markets. Research uncovers how a significant amount of PVC is made with forced labor.

This collaboration between the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and Material Research found the following:

  • the Uyghur Region has become a world leader in the production of PVC plastics in recent years, accounting for 10% of the world’s PVC.
  • The two largest PVC manufacturers in China are both state-owned enterprises based in the XUAR:
    – Xinjiang Zhongtai Chemical (2.33 million tons per year, from four locations)
    – Xinjiang Tianye (1.4 million tons capacity per year, from one location).
  • All of the Uyghur Region’s PVC companies have been active participants in the XUAR’s notorious labour transfer programs.
  • Those companies export to 73 intermediary manufacturers, who then export PVC-based building materials to at least 158 companies worldwide.

Everyone is talking about reuse. It’s a promising approach to drastically reduce packaging waste, but scaling it up responsibly calls for some careful considerations. Check out Food Packaging Forum’s fact sheet for a quick introduction!

Researchers find that there are at least 150 chemicals that leach into drinks, including water, from single-use plastic bottles. At least 18 of those chemicals were found at levels that exceed EU chemical regulations.

Abstract: Chemicals can migrate from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drink bottles to their content and recycling processes may concentrate or introduce new chemicals to the PET value chain. Therefore, even though recycling PET bottles is key in reducing plastic pollution, it may raise concerns about safety and quality. This study provides a systematic evidence map of the food contact chemicals (FCCs) that migrate from PET drink bottles aiming to identify challenges in closing the plastic packaging loop. The migration potential of 193 FCCs has been investigated across the PET drink bottles lifecycle, of which 150 have been detected to migrate from PET bottles into food simulants/food samples. The study reveals that much research has focused on the migration of antimony (Sb), acetaldehyde and some well-known endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). It indicates and discusses the key influential factors on FCCs migration, such as physical characteristics and geographical origin of PET bottles, storage conditions, and reprocessing efficiency . Although, safety and quality implications arising from the recycling of PET bottles remain underexplored, the higher migration of Sb and Bishphenol A has been reported in recycled (rPET) compared to virgin PET. This is attributed to multiple contamination sources and the variability in the collection, sorting, and decontamination efficiency. Better collaboration among stakeholders across the entire PET bottles lifecycle is needed to ensure sustainable resource management and food contact safety of rPET.

Experts find there is a significant lack of understanding in recycling facilities’ pollution potential. Plastic recycling facilities are a source of microplastic pollution. This pollution is most concentrated in recycling wash water.

Abstract: With current plastic production and the growing problem of global plastic pollution, an increase and improvement in plastic recycling is needed. There is limited knowledge or assessment of microplastic pollution from point sources such as plastic recycling facilities globally. This pilot study investigates microplastic pollution from a mixed plastics recycling facility in the UK to advance current quantitative understanding of microplastic (MP) pollution release from a plastic recycling facility to receiving waters. Raw recycling wash water were estimate to contain microplastic counts between 5.97 106 – 1.12 × 108 MP m−3 (following fluorescence microscopy analysis). The microplastic pollution mitigation (filtration installed) was found to remove the majority of microplastics >5µm, with high removal efficiencies for microplastics >40µm. Microplastics <5µm were generally not removed by the filtration and subsequently discharged, with 59-1184 tonnes potentially discharged annually. It is recommended that additional filtration to remove the smaller microplastics prior to wash discharge is incorporated in the wash water management. Evidence of microplastic wash water pollution suggest it may be important to integrate microplastics into water quality regulations. Further studies should be conducted to increase knowledge of microplastic pollution from plastic recycling processes.

The Joint Initiative for Sustainable Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste Management has prepared these guidelines to emphasize the importance of reducing packaging materials and prioritizing refusal and reduction over recycling due to the challenges of collection and recycling in areas where humanitarian operations take place.

To reduce packaging waste, it is important to choose packaging-free alternatives, advocate for suppliers of packaging materials to reduce packaging, eliminate single-use plastics, optimize the size of the packaging, and enable packaging to be reused or repurposed using innovative designs.

Following the waste-management hierarchy, this document also provides comprehensive guidelines to ensure sound management of packaging waste reuse and repurpose, recycling, and disposal in humanitarian operations.