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MILJØFORSK-Miljøforskning for en grønn samfunnsomstilling

State-of-the-art review on hazardous substances in plastics (PlastChem project)

Alternative title: Kunnskapsstatus om helse- og miljøskadelige stoffer i plast

Awarded: NOK 2.2 mill.

Plastics are important for many aspects of our everyday lives, such as food packaging, medicine, and electronics. However, plastic products also contain thousands of chemicals that are released during and after use. For instance, chemicals leaching from packaging contaminate the food we eat. This is a problem because many chemicals used in plastics can have negative impacts on our health and the environment. Another problem is that plastic products are chemically very complicated, so we do not know all the substances in them. Therefore, we do not understand well how they affect us and the environment. Governments in Europe and across the world have agreed to reduce the negative impacts of plastics on human health and the environment. One way to do so is to create a circular economy in which plastic materials and products are reused instead of thrown away. Removing toxic chemicals from plastics is an important part of this strategy. The PlastChem project will support this by summarizing the current scientific knowledge on the chemicals in plastics. The project will produce a report that answers the following questions: - Which and how many substances are used in plastic? - Which groups of chemicals are the most problematic for our health and the environment? - In which plastics and products are these chemicals used? - What can be done to remove them? Politicians and other decision makers can use this scientific report to tackle the problem of toxic chemicals and make plastic products safer. This will not only promote our transition to a circular economy for plastics but also help to improve the health of the public and of nature.

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Despite plastics being widely used in and highly relevant for societies, the knowledge base on their chemical composition and the impacts of plastic chemicals on humans and the environment is fragmented. Accordingly, an authoritative resource that enables evidence-based policy development to better protect public health and nature is missing. The PlastChem project will produce such resource in form of a high-quality state-of-the-art review that synthesizes the scientific evidence on hazardous substances in plastics and prioritize these chemicals and the polymers they are contained in. To achieve this, the project will consolidate information on >15000 plastic chemicals from existing databases, polymer mass flows, scientific and market data to systematically compile hazard and exposure information on chemicals and polymers. The resulting PlastChem database will be used to group plastic chemicals according to structure and to prioritize groups of chemicals using a weight-of-evidence approach, considering hazard, exposure, and market data. The priority chemicals will be linked to the polymers they are contained in based on empirical evidence (i.e., detection in plastics). In addition, we will evaluate the whole-migrate-toxicity of all chemicals leaching from plastic products, thus, including unknown chemicals and mixture effects. Both will be used to prioritize polymers widespread in society and nature, and relevant for a circular economy. To ensure policy relevance, we will assess and prioritize regulatory needs in close collaboration with the advisory board and other experts. This interaction will also guide the project implementation and ensure that the state-of-the-art review is tailored to the pertinent policy needs. The review and the PlastChem database as main project outputs will be authoritative resources for developing policies that promote a non-toxic environment in line with the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability and the global plastic treaty.

Funding scheme:

MILJØFORSK-Miljøforskning for en grønn samfunnsomstilling