Study maps intentionally added substances in plastics


Scientists investigate plastic monomers, additives, and processing aids for their chemical identity, use, and hazard classification; identify >10,000 chemicals; 24% categorized as substances of potential concern of which the majority is not currently subject to management measures; emphasize information gaps regarding substance properties and uses.

An article published on June 21, 2021, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology, reports on the chemical types, use patterns, hazard classifications, production volumes, and regulatory status of intentionally added substances (IAS) present in plastics. Helene Wiesinger and co-authors from ETH Zürich, Switzerland, reviewed 63 publicly available data sources from industry, science, and regulatory agencies on IAS, including monomers, additives, and processing aids, and they compiled the information into a database.

In total, the scientists identified 10,547 IAS that have a CAS number. The main reported uses of these substances are in packaging, textiles, and food-contact applications (more than 2,000 substances in each), toys (522 substances), and medical items (275 substances). The production volume of 4,000 compounds is ranked as ‘high’, since they exceed an annual production volume of 1,000 metric tons in the EU and/or the US. Based on the persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity criteria in the EU, the scientists categorized 24% of the identified chemicals as “substances of potential concern.” They reported that more than half of these substances of concern are neither included in the Stockholm Convention nor in regulations from the US, EU, and Japan. Around 900 of these chemicals are, however, allowed in these countries for food-contact applications.

In the article, the authors also address the data and knowledge gaps they observed during their research: The substances used in plastics are often not transparently reported, hazard data of plastic chemicals is lacking or incomprehensively reported, and application information is missing. According to the scientists, transparent reporting of information along a product’s value chain, centralized and comprehensive data compilation, and open accessibility are key factors to allow for better management of hazardous chemicals and guarantee the safety of plastics. Moreover, they emphasized that chemical regulations need to cover all hazardous substances and that harmonization of regulatory efforts between countries can help “to ensure global sound chemicals management.” The authors believe that their database can support the transition to a safe circular plastic economy since it helps increase transparency and identify safer chemical alternatives that are currently missing on the market. Wiesinger and colleagues concluded that “concerted efforts from industry, civil society organizations, the scientific community, regulatory agencies, and other policymakers are urgently needed to ensure sustainable chemicals management in the future.”

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Food Packaging Forum, 22 June 2021