Toxic Additives in Plastics: Hidden Health Hazards Linked to Common Plastic Products

Toxic Additives in Plastics: Hidden Health Hazards Linked to Common Plastic Products


HEJSupport contributed to the development of the report that emphasizes that efforts to tackle the world’s plastic pollution problem must further address the substances of concern ubiquitous in plastic waste.

The report identifies “substances of concern” in plastics that pose a risk to human health and the environmental including flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, phthalates, bisphenols, and nonylphenols. These substances, many of which are endocrine disrupting chemicals, are used in plastic products, including products for children as toxic additives. They are found in toys,  food packaging, electronics, textiles, upholstery, furniture, kitchen utilities and numerous other products that used daily.

The report addresses the presence and impact of the hazardous chemicals of concern in all stages of the plastic product life-cycle, from production and use, to recycling and landfill, incineration, waste to energy, and land and marine accumulation.

“Toxic additives in plastics jeopardize recycling and contaminates products made of recycled materials. This problem undermines global efforts to reduce plastic pollution and justifies the need to change the approach towards better and safer product design with the goal to minimize plastic production and use. The report is particularly important now, on the eve of the entry into force of the plastic amendments to the Basel Convention. Knowing about toxic additives in plastic will help countries enhance the control of the transboundary movements of plastic waste and implement these amendments effectively by giving or rejecting their consent that they accept these materials and that they can manage them safely,” said Dr. Olga Speranskaya, HEJSupport.

The report details the chemicals’ associated impacts on human, marine biota, and environmental health. Even small amounts of these plastic chemical additives can result in cancers, damage to immune and reproductive systems, impaired intellectual functions, and/or developmental delays.

“Countries face enormous challenges trying to manage hazardous chemicals in plastic products and waste. Global coordinated efforts are needed, including mandatory chemical content labelling to achieve the full ban of hazardous chemicals and their regrettable substitutions in plastic products and avoid toxic exposure through the life-cycle of plastics,” said Alexandra Caterbow, HEJSupport.

Four key approaches are described in the report that can reduce the production and use of chemicals of concern, prevent regrettable substitutions, and realize a safe circular economy. :
• Materials should be designed in accordance with goals of causing no harm to environmental and human health and achieving zero waste
• Investment must be made to develop new, safer materials and systems that avoid the production and use of plastics with hazardous chemical additives, and avoid the replacement of toxic additives with regrettable substitutions • Industry collaboration will be key for industry to take responsibility for the hazardous materials they produce
• Transparent chemical composition labelling must be applied to all plastic materials.

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Written by Olga Speranskaya