Some polystyrene and PVC plastic containers are banned — the government’s solution? Use more plastic
Last October, the government banned some polystyrene and PVC plastic containers. Other PVC single-use packaging will be phased-out in 2025.
— You can find more information on plastic bans here.
— More information on the resin plastic identification codes can be found here.
Chemicals in plastic products are relatively unregulated
In this piece published on theguardian.com questioning the safety of plastic containers, researchers discussed how it was “difficult to answer which plastic containers are safe without greater transparency about what chemicals make up everyday plastic materials.” Complex chemistry is required in plastics, and it is hard to know exactly what other chemicals are found in plastic food containers. These claims of questionable safety were disputed by The Plastics Industry Association (Plastics), a trade group.
In 2019, the Food Packaging Forum (FPF), a Switzerland-based not-for-profit focused on the science behind food packaging, compiled a database of more than 900 chemicals “likely” associated with plastic food packaging production worldwide and another 3,400 “possibly” used. Of those 4,300 chemicals, 60% had no available hazard data. These findings were published in the 2015 paper, ‘Overview of known plastic packaging-associated chemicals and their hazards’.
Plastic is not completely stable — or safe
Heat helps break the chemical bonds in plastic, and in the history of scientific research, experts have long cautioned that exposure to high temperatures may increase the rate of chemical migration from the container into the food — referred to as antimony. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is classified as a ‘safe’ plastic used widely in manufacturing plastic water bottles and trays. Decades have demonstrated that PET recycling has proved inefficient. And rather than that find alternative ways of developing infrastructure for safer materials such as compostable packaging, recent government legislation promotes PET material to replace plastic numbers 3, 6 and 7.
Migration of antimony from polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
In this 2020 paper, researchers studied the effect of temperature and storage time on the migration of antimony from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into commercial bottled water. And although the range of antimony concentrations in the bottled waters is well below WHO maximum contaminant level if stored at room temperature, inappropriate and prolonged storage of plastic bottles may lead to exceed the maximum contaminant level of 6 ppb. And there is a body of scientific research linking PET with antimony which poses both acute and chronic health effects.
This paper, published in 1982 studying the impacts of microwave heating on the migration of plasticisers out of plastic stated at the time, the research was well documented. Numerous studies referred to in this paper indicated that some plasticisers can cause undesirable side effects in animal tissue and that “relatively new efforts to quantify the amount of plasticisers released during heating indicate that the percentage migrating from one type of plastic is approximately 23% of the total weight.” The researchers then went on the state that the potential consequences although not completely evaluated and understood and should be of concern.
PET is a challenging material to rework into new products and requires chemical recycling. In order to be recycled, used plastic once sorted, is shredded, breaking PET’s core structure — its polymer chains. Plastic flakes are then melted and reformed into pellets that can be used to make new plastic products. However, to make another plastic bottle virgin PET is required to rebind the polymers. And incidentally, with subsequent recycling rounds, PET becomes weaker.Plastic recycling schemes also generate high volumes of hazardous waste.
This process poses significant threats to the rights of the health of workers and nearby communities. Often recycling facilities are located within lower socio-economic regions. Scientific studies have found that localised air pollution and the release of toxins during plastic shredding and melting pose risks to human health. These include exposure to fine particles, dioxins, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful chemical additives in plastics, and have been linked to asthma, respiratory illnesses, cancer, and reproductive system harms.
Human and environmental health impacts of recycling
Fuels generated from this chemical recycling process release endocrine-disrupting chemicals and other toxic additives into the atmosphere once burned. And according to a report published by the Canadian government, toxicity risks in recycled plastic prohibit “the vast majority of plastic products and packaging produced” from being recycled into food-grade packaging.
Various regional legal and standardisation approaches exist for promoting the recycling of plastic waste. For example, within the European Union (EU) from 2025 beverage bottles that are manufactured mainly from the PET must contain at least 25% of recycled plastic. And from 2030 — at least 30%.
That said, governments continue to lean on recycling to solve the plastic crisis. Industry groups and consumer brands are today, pushing post consumer recycled content because it looks like caring about the environment. However the reality is that the percentage of recycled plastic in these products - a response to public pressure, is not 100%. Ultimately, while some materials can be effectively recycled safely made from recycled content— like paper and aluminium, plastics cannot.
If you are using plastics, consider the following:
— Don’t store fatty or oily foods in plastic containers – many chemicals used in plastic are fat soluble and are more likely to leach into greasy food.
—Remove where possible, number 1, 2 and 5 plastics which contribute to the widespread ingestion of microplastics.
Our quest toward a paradigm shift from linear to circular began in 2011 with the aim of replacing single-use plastic with compostable materials. We utilise the most innovative plant-based raw materials to design and develop low-emission packaging that can replace every plastic use case, representing alternative and more sustainable solutions for human health and the environment.
With over 500 SKUs, we offer packaging alternatives to all existing single-use disposable plastics and a full-circle recovery service—Compost Collect.
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If you are a business looking to shift away from number 1, 2 and 5 plastics, please get in touch. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here, you can also view an overview of the single-use plastics ban with suitable packaging alternatives made from plants. Not oil.