Plastic is in many everyday products. But what ingredients hidden in it? The Frankfurt study surprised even the scientists.
We almost always keep the plastic in hand: if we put the yogurt, bring the cheese out of the package, we prepare a heated food, when you take the shower gel, then body lotion in the bathroom. Plastic products are ubiquitous, they accumulate on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies in almost every house, are indispensable in everyday life and difficult to avoid, even if you want it. For some time, plastic is increasingly present in the media and politics, always with the negative headlines: “too much garbage, the micro-plastic in the waters of the earth, even in the snow and in the human body,” writes Pamela Derhofer — journalist of the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.
But no matter how widespread these materials, little is known about their exact ingredients. Therefore, scientists from the research group “PlastX” Institute for social-ecological research Frankfurt (ISOE), Frankfurt Goethe University and the Norwegian University of science and technology have carefully studied the everyday plastic items in the lab.
80 percent of the substances contained in the plastic can not be identified
Their study, funded by the Federal Ministry of education and research, is published today in the journal “environmental Science and technology”. The result surprised even the scientists: three quarters of the analysed products contained harmful chemicals. In addition, 80 percent of the substances contained in plastics, can not be identified, not to mention how they interact with each other and the impact they can have on the body.
For their study, the researchers headed ISOE 34 researched popular products from eight different types of plastics, which they bought in German supermarkets. According to biologist Lisa Zimmermann, lead author of the study, among them, in particular, cups for yoghurt, soft drinks bottles, shower gel, shampoo or hair conditioner, coffee mugs, sponge baths, or packs of disposable handkerchiefs.
Plastic is durable, shatterproof and supple
Industry appreciates and uses plastic in large quantities because it is stronger, not breaking and at the same time elastic, can also be well washed. But what compounds provide these properties? It is known that plastics are manufactured in a chemical process is mainly from the oil, depending on the material, for example, added plasticizers, stabilizers and dyes. The best known and most frequently used types of plastics are PET (polyethylene terephthalate), PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and polyurethane (PUR).
In the laboratory, scientists have identified a mixture of substances from products. Overall, they were more than 1400. The researchers did not expect such a large number. Some products even consisted of more than 100 different substances. However, of the 1,400 substances, the team managed to identify only 260 using chemical analysis. It’s only 20 percent means 80 percent of the substances contained in plastic products, is unknown.
What in plastic? The researchers call for greater transparency from the industry
“In addition to additives, plastics deliberately designed and created in the complex process of production of plastics — a real cocktail of substances, most of which we do not know,” says ecotoxicology Carolyn völker, head of the research group “PlastX”.
Even worse is that manufacturers rarely specify what substances they use in the material.
Among other things, the production process uses various catalysts that affect chemical processes, “and can then be used in the final product,” explains Lisa Zimmermann. For example, if the product consists of 100 substances, they can react with each other, to penetrate into the package contents and interact with it and, ultimately, with the environment in the human body.
Unknown chemicals in plastics have led to negative consequences
In the next step, the researchers used a mixture of substances emitted from products in the cell tests. They were based in part on human cells, some of them were modified bacteria or yeast cells. According to biologist Lisa Zimmermann, in three of the four products were “obviously negative effects”. Among other things, they led to non-specific toxicity or endocrinopathy hormone-like effects, as evidenced by the contradictory plasticizers and bisphenol a found in some plastics.
But for most of the studied substances, scientists just didn’t know what we’re dealing with.
“And if we don’t know of a chemical we cannot determine whether they are safe for people and the environment,” says Zimmermann.
Therefore, it is impossible. Draw conclusions about the consequences for health, especially when you consider that the results of the cell tests in the laboratory can not be unambiguously transferred to the behaviour in body tissues.
It also indicates toxicologist Wolfgang Dekant from the Institute of pharmacology and toxicology, University of Wurzburg, who was not involved in the study. He believes such tests on the toxicity risk to health.
A quarter of the tested plastic products did not contain toxic chemicals
In the end, a quarter of the products tested did not contain toxic chemicals.
“Thus, we see that the market is already more secure alternatives,” says Carolyn ecotoxicology völker.
Problem: they are not recognizable to the consumer.
“When buying light Cup with yogurt is indistinguishable from one that contain harmful ingredients,” says Lisa Zimmermann.
Consumers should buy products without plastic, if possible
As consumers can then navigate? Carolyn völker recommends you to buy fresh and unpackaged products instead of buying products packaged in plastic.
If you need to use plastic products, says Lisa Zimmermann, you have to choose a PET (recycling code 1), but avoid PVC (recycling code 3). Microwave cookware must never be heated in the microwave because high temperatures promote the penetration of chemicals from plastic into food, says Caroline völker.