Study finds bioplastics to be just as toxic as regular plastic

Study finds bioplastics to be ...
A new study has found the bioplastics contain just as many toxic chemicals as conventional plastics
A new study has found the bioplastics contain just as many toxic chemicals as conventional plastics
View 1 Image
A new study has found the bioplastics contain just as many toxic chemicals as conventional plastics
A new study has found the bioplastics contain just as many toxic chemicals as conventional plastics

Often made from plants, recycled material and various forms of organic matter, bioplastics promise a number of advantages over conventional plastics produced through fossil fuels. These include less energy-intensive production, faster biodegradation in the environment and even greater resistance to heat, but a new study suggests that safety may not be one of these benefits, revealing that bioplastics carry just as much toxic content as regular plastic.

The research was led by scientists at Germany’s Goethe University and is described as the largest survey to date of the chemical content of bioplastics. The work focused on 43 different types of bioplastic products such as drink bottles, wine corks and disposable cutlery, with the team finding that the vast majority of these items contained thousands of different chemicals.

“Eighty per cent of the products contained more than 1,000 different chemicals,” says Martin Wagner from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author of the study. “Some of them as many as 20,000 chemicals.”

Bioplastics made from cellulose and starch were found to contain the most chemicals, and also triggered the strongest toxic reactions in in vitro laboratory tests as confirmed through bioassays and mass spectrometry. Overall, the researchers found the characteristics of these bioplastics to be on par with regular plastics, so far as toxicity is concerned.

“Three out of four of these plastic products contain substances that we know are dangerous under laboratory conditions, the same as for conventional plastic,” says Wagner.

Establishing that bioplastics are just as toxic as regular plastics is one thing, but determining what that means for the health of humans and the environment is very much another.

Little is known about how plastic particles impact living organisms, though we are seeing research start to uncover some of the detrimental effects, such as inducing aneurysms in fish or impairing decision-making in hermit crabs. The World Health Organization also launched a review in 2018 after a study found plastic particles in 93 percent of bottled water, so the wheels are beginning to turn on efforts to fill this gap in our knowledge.

The research was published in the journal Environmental International.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Oh, gosh! A thousand different chemicals! Maybe as many as 20,000! This research strikes me as serious fear-mongering hype. If the researchers would focus on actual toxicity results, such a study could be useful. But simply listing the number of different molecules that can be found in the plastics -- on that basis living cells, which also contain thousands of different chemicals (some of them highly toxic in large doses!) should never be allowed out of a sealed lab.
Well, who would have thought that something which conforms to the properties of plastic - I mean, engineered to be just like hydrocarbon chemistry plastics - would have many of the attributes of plastics??

It stands to reason, doesn't it? Unless you are creating a modified plastic that degrades faster in sunlight or degrades faster in the presence of water, or whatever method of degradation that is 'preprogrammed' into short half-life plastics you really can't call it plastic, can you?
Apart from the toxicity level of bio/plastics, we have recycling processes that are constantly trying to improve recovery rates, but when incompatible bioplastics are introduced into the stream the whole thing becomes further complicated because of the high possibility they'll be thrown in the same bins.

This brings to mind the rash of "meatless" burgers and hot dog sausages that are the rage nowadays. What's in this faux-product that makes it taste like meat and is it good for you? Toxicity levels?

For crying out loud, just use less plastic and eat less meat! And don't get me started on plastic non-dairy cheese.
Rusty Harris
I remember when everything came in glass bottles. Even back in the 60's & 70's, we RECYCLED the summer for extra spending money.
But the weight of them I guess was the reason they got rid of them.
My solution is to avoid disposable plastics like bottles and flatware. Reusables for the win.
Dirk Scott
In rural Morocco I came across a neat recycling scheme. Local lads collected discarded plastic water bottles, bought a sack of new lids, filled them with dodgy river water then sold them back to the tourists who had thrown them away. Wherever you are, bottled water may not be the solution you thought it was.