Enabling a circular economy for chemicals in plastics

[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Enabling a circular economy for plastics in Europe and beyond is an ambitious goal. To reach a fully closed loop, numerous challenges and knowledge gaps need to be overcome. This review provides a list of more than 6000 chemicals reported to be found in plastics and an overview of the challenges and gaps in assessing their impacts on the environment and human health along the life cycle of plastic products. We further identified 1518 plastic-related chemicals of concern, which should be prioritized for substitution by safer alternatives. At last, we propose five policy recommendations, including the need of a global and overarching regulatory framework for plastics and related chemicals, in support of a circular economy for plastics and of target 12.4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]State of knowledge of chemicals in plastics[/font]

[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Overview of chemical additives[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]The production of chemicals for plastics is continuously increasing in terms of both quantity and diversity, with several thousand chemicals used across many material applications. Estimating global additives production is not an easy task, because these data are usually not publicly available. However, with a global plastic production of 368 Mt in 2019, and assuming 1–10% additives mass fraction for nonfibre plastics, the total amount of additives used in 2019 might be around 20 (3.6–36.8) Mt. If plastic production follows current increasing trends, it is estimated that we will have produced 2000 Mt of additives by the end of 2050. Plasticizers are the most used additives and together with flame retardants cover almost 50% of globally applied additives. Owing to their wide-ranging application and high-production volumes, these two types of additives have been receiving special attention (e.g. Commission Regulation (EU) 2018/2005).[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Additives are applied during the production process at different concentrations based on the specific function that they need to fulfil. It provides an overview of functions, typical material application, chemical classes, and application ranges. For example, plasticizer application ranges vary across materials, and can reach up to 60–70% of the plastic mass in soft PVC resin products. Other additives are usually applied at much lower concentrations, such as 0.7–25% for flame retardants or 0.05–5% for stabilizers and antioxidants. The concentration of unintentional residues is typically <1%. Generally, it is accepted to consider as NIAS only compounds with a mass <1000 Da, assuming that substances with a higher molecular weight cannot be absorbed in the body (EU No 10/2011, although there might be some uptake in the gut).[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Chemicals reported in plastics[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]As of today, there is no publicly available database containing a complete and detailed list of chemicals used in the various plastic products, specifying typical function, plastic types, and mass fraction ranges. In an attempt to provide such an overview, we used the mapping of plastic additives conducted by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), and expanded it with data from 35 additional sources. The considered sources include—amongst others—Annex I of Commission Regulation (EU) No 10/2011, also called the Union list, which is a positive list of monomers and additives authorized for use in plastic-based food contact materials, the work conducted by Groh et al., and the Chemicals and Product Categories database (CPCat; actor.epa.gov/cpcat), which contains information across different categories and materials[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]As a result, It provides a list of more than 6000 functional additives, pigments and other substances found (both currently and in the past) in plastics. For each substance, we provide CAS number, main chemical function, typical application range, and polymer type (when available). For building the data set, we checked and harmonized where needed the reported chemical names, CAS numbers, and functions. Chemicals were classified according to their specific function in plastic materials based on the information reported in the considered sources. Wherever such information was missing, we retrieved the function from other references.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]It aims at providing a comprehensive overview of chemicals found in plastics across different polymers and product applications. It contains various types of substances reported to be found in plastics; consequently, it is not limited to additives but also includes NIAS, solvents, unreacted monomers, starting substances, and processing aids.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Challenges and gaps in assessing plastic-related chemicals’ impacts in a circularity context[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]The goal of a circular economy is to move.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Sodium carbonate, activated carbon and copper-impregnated aluminium are used to absorb the sulphur without the use of water. They give efficiencies of absorption of 85–90% and have the advantage of not cooling the stack gases. The gases will then rise upwards from the top of the stack and disperse more widely in the atmosphere.[/font]

[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Food packaging is of high societal value because it conserves and protects food, makes food transportable and conveys information to consumers. It is also relevant for marketing, which is of economic significance. Other types of food contact articles, such as storage containers, processing equipment and filling lines, are also important for food production and food supply. Food contact articles are made up of one or multiple different food contact materials and consist of food contact chemicals. However, food contact chemicals transfer from all types of food contact materials and articles into food and, consequently, are taken up by humans. Here we highlight topics of concern based on scientific findings showing that food contact materials and articles are a relevant exposure pathway for known hazardous substances as well as for a plethora of toxicologically uncharacterized chemicals, both intentionally and non-intentionally added. We describe areas of certainty, like the fact that chemicals migrate from food contact articles into food, and uncertainty, for example unidentified chemicals migrating into food. Current safety assessment of food contact chemicals is ineffective at protecting human health. In addition, society is striving for waste reduction with a focus on food packaging. As a result, solutions are being developed toward reuse, recycling or alternative (non-plastic) materials. However, the critical aspect of chemicals for food safety is often ignored. Developing solutions for improving the safety of food contact chemicals and for tackling the circular economy must include current scientific knowledge. This cannot be done in isolation but must include all relevant experts and stakeholders. Therefore, we provide an overview of areas of concern and related activities that will improve the safety of food contact articles and support a circular economy. Our aim is to initiate a broader discussion involving scientists with relevant expertise but not currently working on food contact materials, and decision makers and influencers addressing single-use food packaging due to environmental concerns. Ultimately, we aim to support science-based decision making in the interest of improving public health. Notably, reducing exposure to hazardous food contact chemicals contributes to the prevention of associated chronic diseases in the human population.[/font]

[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Titanium dioxide is odourless and absorbent. Its most important function in powder form is as a widely used pigment for lending whiteness and opacity. Titanium dioxide has been used as a bleaching and opacifying agent in porcelain enamels, giving them brightness, hardness, and acid resistance.[/font]

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[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]The addition of water treatment chemicals has always been considered as a standard operation in water and wastewater treatment. The concentration of chemicals was usually kept to the minimum necessary to achieve a good quality of potable or otherwise treated water. A significant interruption to the status-quo occurred more than 20 years ago after a severe and highly publicized outbreak of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts. The strategic planning after the outbreak was to shift from physical-chemical to physical treatment methods, such as membrane filtration and UV disinfection. As such, the new procedures were supposed to eliminate the threat of water contamination through a minor addition of chemicals. Such was the mistrust and disappointment with water treatment chemicals themselves.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Indeed, water treatment technologies, such as chemicals for water treatment, are now using novel physical treatment methods. Membranes largely replaced granular filtration, and UV is paving the way towards minimization or elimination of the use of classic disinfection chemicals, such as chlorine and its derivatives. Yet, far from the “high-tech” revolution in water treatment technologies actually reducing the use of chemicals, the latter has in fact been significantly increased. The “conventional” chemicals used for pre-treatment, disinfection, corrosion prevention, softening and algae bloom depression are all still in place. Furthermore, new groups of chemicals such as biocides, chelating agents and fouling cleaners are currently used to supplement them. These latter are the chemicals needed to protect the high-tech equipment, to optimize the treatment, and to clean the equipment between uses.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]The health effects of the new chemicals introduced into water are yet to be fully established. Typically, a higher treatment efficiency requires effective chemicals, yet these are not always environmentally friendly. It seems obvious that the “high-tech” revolution currently affects the sustainability of water resources, and certainly not in a completely positive way. In short, the adverse effects of the introduction of such a significant amount of treatment chemicals into our sources of water are yet to be evaluated.[/font]
[font=NexusSerif, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, STIXGeneral, “Cambria Math”, “Lucida Sans Unicode”, “Microsoft Sans Serif”, “Segoe UI Symbol”, “Arial Unicode MS”, serif]Employees in printing industries can be exposed to multiple solvents in their work environment, like all sorts of chemicals for paint and print. The objectives of this study were to investigate the critical components of chemical solvents by analyzing the components of the solvents and collecting the Safety data sheets (SDSs), and to evaluate the hazard communication implementation status in printing industries.[/font]