Bio-based and biodegradable plastic is no safer than other plastics.
Bioplastics may not be made from oil, but that’s the only benefit, according to researchers.
Conventional plastic is made from oil. Plastic production is unsustainable and may contain substances that we know are dangerous if ingested.
In recent years, bioplastics have come onto the market as an alternative to conventional plastic. Bioplastic has some obvious advantages: it’s usually made from recycled material or plant-based cellulose, and it can be biodegradable – or both.
However, a new study shows that it is not non-toxic.
In fact, according to one article, bioplastics are just as toxic as other plastics Environment International.
Bioplastics are not safer
“Bio-based and biodegradable plastic is no safer than other plastics,” says Lisa Zimmermann from the Goethe University in Frankfurt. She is the lead author of the most recent article.
Zimmermann points out that cellulose-based and starch-based products contained the most chemicals. They also caused more toxic reactions under laboratory conditions.
People use an enormous amount of plastic, and it’s not clear that bioplastics are a good alternative.
“Three out of four of these plastic products contain substances that we know are dangerous under laboratory conditions, just like conventional plastic,” says Martin Wagner, associate professor in the Department of Biology at NTNU.
Wagner is one of the collaborators for PlastX, a research group at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) in Frankfurt.
This group has just led work on the largest survey to date on chemicals in bioplastics and plastics made from plant materials.
Up to 20,000 different substances
In particular, the group looked at toxic substances in these types of plastics. The substances can be directly toxic to cells in the laboratory, for example, or act as hormones, which in turn can disturb the body’s balance.
The study covers 43 different plastic products, including disposable cutlery, chocolate wrapping paper, drinking bottles and wine corks.
“Eighty percent of the products contained more than 1,000 different chemicals. Some of them are up to 20,000 chemicals, ”says Wagner.
General guidance impossible
It goes without saying that it is nearly impossible to keep track of absolutely all the possible harmful effects of so many different materials.
Even apparently similar products have their own special chemical composition. A plastic bag made from bio-polyethylene can contain completely different substances than a wine cork made from the same material.
“It is almost impossible to make general statements about certain materials,” says Wagner.
We do not know to what extent the substances in plastic are transferred to us humans.
Other packaging is not necessarily better
The consequences for the environment and human health are still uncertain. We do not know to what extent the substances in plastic can be transferred to humans.
We also don’t know whether the alternatives to bioplastics and conventional plastics are better for us and the environment around us, as so many factors come into play. The alternatives can include environmentally harmful production methods and limited opportunities for recycling, or food production must give way to preserve the materials for the alternative products. More research is needed.
Reference: “Are bioplastics and plant-based materials safer than conventional plastics? In vitro Toxicity and chemical composition “by Lisa Zimmermann, Andrea Dombrowski, Carolin Völker and Martin Wagner, September 17, 2020, Environment International.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.envint.2020.106066
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