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Echa publishes inventory of additives in plastics

Products - Plastic bottles © Art Allianz -

Echa has published information on 419 substances used as additives in plastics in the EU.

The agency worked alongside EU member state representatives, academics, Cefic and 21 industry sectors, including additive manufacturers and downstream users, for the mapping exercise.

The plastics value chain was represented by PlasticsEurope and European Plastics Converters (EuPC). For two years, the collaborators screened around 1,000 substances to identify those used as plastic additives in the trade bloc and to validate data on their intrinsic properties.

The initiative, which kicked off in 2016, contributes to meeting the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s 2020 goals and to the EU’s plastics strategy.

Data provided by industry on substances manufactured or imported at above 100 tonnes per year helped Echa and a team of researchers develop a model to calculate the release potential of each substance into the environment.

The inventory does not provide actual real-life or experimental data, Cefic said – only the relative release potential.

Additives are used in plastics to "impart the essential properties needed to make them fit for their specific purpose and ensure safe use by the consumer throughout the article’s service life", Cefic said.

The inventory covers substances used as:

  • plasticisers that ensure the flexibility and durability of cables, flooring and roof membranes;
  • flame retardants that impart fire-safety properties to electronics and other household items;
  • antioxidants that ensure durability and stability of drinking water pipes and other long-life articles; and
  • pigments, heat stabilisers, UV/light stabilisers, nucleating agents and antistatics.

It includes information on the polymer types that the additives are most commonly found in and the expected concentration ranges.

Going forward

Together with information on hazard potential, the use and release information will be used by Echa and member states to help prioritise groups of substances for in-depth assessment under REACH.

The project "aims to assist industry in identifying what use and exposure information is relevant to determine safe use for substances in articles and hence trigger a need for updating their registration dossiers", Echa said.

This information should be included in registrations and also communicated down the supply chains, the agency added. "Comparing the release potential of additives with the same technical function can also help in the substitution of hazardous substances with safer alternatives."

Cefic said the inventory is an "important step towards better risk assessment of these substances under REACH and CLP".

Companies will be able to use the inventory to further refine the data about uses and exposure potential in their REACH registration dossiers, it added.

"Cefic and PlasticsEurope members will communicate the inventory to their supply chain to make sure the downstream industries have the right information about the uses of each substance and its properties."

In related news, a report released recently by a group of international NGOs said that plastic and its impact on human health is poorly understood and presents a "global health crisis".

Health-impact assessments have focused solely on the plastic components of products while ignoring the thousands of additives within the plastics and their behaviour at every stage of the plastic lifecycle, it said.

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