Is there any safe plastic
Health hazards from plastic
Which plastics are particularly problematic?
The plastic PVC is particularly problematic because its production requires toxic chlorine. If PVC is not burned hot enough, this plastic can produce dioxins, which are extremely toxic. In order to make PVC elastic, as is necessary for cable sheathing, for example, delicate plasticizers are added that are not firmly bound to the plastic and can be released again. In addition, PVC can contain UV stabilizers containing heavy metals, which are intended to prevent the plastic from aging due to exposure to sunlight. PVC can be marked with the recycling code 03.
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), better known as Teflon
Toxic pollutants were used in the production of PTFE, which permanently pollute the environment. For example, PTFE manufacturers in the USA had to pay high compensation for contaminating the water and soil in West Virginia with the toxin PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). As a result of the PTFE production in the Bavarian chemical park in Gendorf, PFOA also got into the water and soil. PFOA damages the immune and endocrine systems, is teratogenic and can cause cancer. PTFE producers are now using other organofluorine compounds as substitutes for PFOA.
The plastic PTFE itself can only be destroyed by burning. This creates toxic hydrofluoric acid, which is neutralized in waste incineration plants. PTFE is used as a non-stick coating on pans and baking tins or as a membrane in outdoor jackets. If PTFE is heated above 360 ° C, toxic fumes are released. Coated dishes should therefore never be heated empty.
Polycarbonate and epoxy resins
Polycarbonate and epoxy resins are made from bisphenols such as bisphenol A. Bisphenol A is on the list of substances of very high concern because it can damage the endocrine system. Polycarbonate has been banned in baby bottles for years. Polycarbonate is often used as a hard, transparent plastic in the kitchen or in toys.
Which additives in plastics are harmful?
Often it is not the plastic itself that is harmful but its additives such as certain UV stabilizers, plasticizers or flame retardants. Unfortunately, these additives often do not just stay in the plastic, but are released again and pass into the room air, house dust or even food. In this way or through skin contact they get into our body. For example, degradation products of plasticizers have been detected in the urine of kindergarten children.
What are plasticizers?
If a plastic feels soft and elastic to the touch and gives way under pressure, it is worth finding out whether it is PVC. If so, you should look for alternatives because plasticizers are in use. These are used to make brittle and hard plastics such as PVC soft and elastic. Various chemical substances are added to the plastic for this purpose. Since many plasticizers are not firmly bound to the plastic, they can also be released again. Esters of phthalic acid (phthalates), citric acid (citrates) or adipic acid (adipates) are used as plasticizers. Some representatives from the group of phthalate plasticizers have already been included in the list of "Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC)" by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) because they have a damaging effect on the endocrine system and can endanger fertility.
In most cases, it is not possible to identify which plasticizer is responsible for elasticity, as the substances are not required to be labeled. However, you have the right to be informed if these substances are on the list of substances of very high concern.
Inquire about toxins at the dealer or manufacturer
Anyone who would like to find out whether a product that has already been purchased or a product that is planned to be purchased soon contains substances of very high concern can send an inquiry to the manufacturer. He must provide information within 45 days if the product contains more than one gram per kilogram (0.1 percent) of the pollutant. According to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, the 0.1 percent limit for products that consist of many parts also applies to the individual components. The manufacturer must therefore indicate if the bicycle grips contain more than 0.1 percent of certain plasticizers. He cannot excuse himself from the fact that the limit value is not exceeded in relation to the entire bicycle. This obligation to answer inquiries also exists for bisphenol A. and for some harmful flame retardants that are used in plastics. Inquiries can be made easily with the Scan4Chem app from the Federal Environment Agency or with the following sample letter from the Federal Environment Agency.
Where do plasticizers occur?
98% of the plasticizers are used in PVC. Polystyrene or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) can also contain plasticizers. Suspicious products include soft plastic toys for children such as beach balls or dolls, plastic dog toys, air mattresses, adult goods, and electronics products. Silicone is also soft, but does not contain plasticizers.
Plasticizers are used less often in food packaging. However, phthalate plasticizers are used in the PVC seals of some screw-top glass lids.
The following plastics always do without volatile plasticizers:
- PE (polyethylene), often recognizable by the recycling code 02 or 04,
- PP (polypropylene), often recognizable by the recycling code 05.
No plasticizer is used in PET beverage bottles either.
How dangerous are plasticizers?
Plasticizers from the phthalate group are particularly harmful to health - the liver, kidneys and testes can be attacked. Some phthalates such as DEHP - di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate - have been shown to have hormone-like effects. They can affect the ability to reproduce and harm the unborn child. The phthalate plasticizers are not firmly bound to the plastic. They can escape into the room air and be dissolved and absorbed by liquids (for example, the saliva when inflating a water ball), but especially by fat.
Because they are harmful to health, some phthalates cannot be used in toys, baby items and cosmetics. In the case of packaging for foodstuffs, they are only permitted with restrictions, or the manufacturers must comply with limit values for the transfer of plasticizers to the contents.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) keeps a list of substances of very high concern. This also includes certain plasticizers. In the future, these substances may only be used in approved exceptional cases.
Consumer advice center NRW
What is bisphenol A (BPA)?
Bisphenol A has become known primarily because it is contained in a large number of consumer products, such as camping and microwave dishes and suitcase covers. It is a basic building block of the plastic polycarbonate. When heated or if the plastic has not been carefully manufactured, it can come off from it.
BPA can disrupt the hormonal system and therefore cause damage, especially in the sensitive development phases of children. Possible consequences are disturbed sexual development and the inability to conceive. Bisphenol A can also have a damaging effect on the liver, kidneys and mammary glands. In January 2018, BPA was added to the list of substances of very high concern because of its damaging effects on the endocrine system.
Where does BPA occur?
BPA was previously used to make polycarbonate baby bottles. This is now forbidden. Baby bottles made of polypropylene (PP) and glass are free from plasticizers. However, BPA is still allowed in the synthetic resin coating of cans or drinks cans.
In so-called epoxy resins such as some paints, fiber composites and adhesives, BPA is an important component. It is also used as an antioxidant in plasticizers.
As a color former, BPA can also be found in many thermal printing papers. These include, for example, receipts and tickets from the machine. This paper should therefore under no circumstances be thrown into the waste paper, so that BPA does not end up in the recycling paper.
Plastics that can contain BPA are often marked with the abbreviation PC. BPA is fat soluble. For this reason, fatty foods should not be stored or heated in packaging made from unknown plastic materials.
The label "BPA free", e.g. on drinks bottles or blenders, does not automatically mean that the product is healthier. In some cases, substitutes such as bisphenol S or bisphenol F are used, which have shown comparable damaging effects in cell culture and animal experiments.
How harmful are flame retardants?
Most plastics are easily flammable. Flame retardants are designed to protect foams in building materials, seating furniture, mattresses or cars as well as carpets, electrical cables and housings of computers or televisions from catching fire quickly. These substances can also escape from the plastic and can be found in indoor air and house dust, for example. Some of these flame retardants damage the human nervous system, can render sterility or are considered carcinogenic.
The designation "FR" for "Flame retardant" indicates that the plastic contains flame retardants. Electronic devices with the Blue Angel eco-label must not contain any halogenated flame retardants. It is therefore worthwhile to ask when shopping whether or which flame retardants are contained in the mattress or the piece of furniture, for example.
Study: Unknown chemical mix in everyday objects
A laboratory study by the PlastX research group shows that many everyday objects such as yoghurt cups, drinking and shampoo bottles consist of a real mix of chemicals. The results were published in September 2019. The researchers examined 34 objects, and three out of four products tested contained substances that damaged cells in laboratory tests. Of the more than 1,400 chemicals discovered, the scientists were also able to identify only 260. "That means that for the most part we do not know what we are dealing with in the plastic products. And if we do not know the chemicals, we cannot determine whether they are safe for humans and the environment," explains the first author of the study. Lisa Zimmermann. She refers to cell tests carried out in which the researchers were able to observe "clearly negative effects".
If possible, you should mainly buy unpackaged groceries. Bio-based plastics like polylactic acid, paper, and cardboard are not necessarily safer. It is better not to heat food packaging made of plastic, because then it is even easier for chemicals to migrate to the contents. The scientists only gave the all-clear for two out of eight plastics examined: HDPE and PET. If it is unclear what material the yoghurt tub is made of, yoghurt in deposit jars remains an alternative.
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