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Concerns about chemicals and plastics

A large number of chemicals are used in the production of plastic materials such as polyethylene, polycarbonates, polystyrene or PVC, ranging from the monomers that make up the plastic polymer itself, to a wide range of additives used, for example to soften plastic, colour it or make it less flammable.

Plastics and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

CHEM Trust has over a decade of expertise of working on the environment and health impacts of Hormone (or Endocrine) Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), several of which are used in the manufacture of plastic products. Many EDCs are well-known contaminants in the environment and are also found in human tissues.

EDCs are chemicals that can interfere with the endocrine system – the body’s sensitive chemical messaging system. In humans, EDCs have been linked to infertility & reproductive problems, obesity & diabetes, heart disease, and hormone related cancers, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

CHEM Trust has campaigned for many years for the restriction of two particular groups of EDCs which are found in plastic products: bisphenols (including BPA) and phthalates.


Bisphenols are a group of chemicals used in the manufacture of polycarbonate (a clear and rigid plastic) and epoxy resin (a plastic adhesive used for the lining inside food and drink cans).

Most of the discussion about bisphenols has focussed on bisphenol A (BPA). Plastic products often made with BPA include: Babies’ feeding bottles (this use is now banned in Europe); bottles in water dispensers; plastic tableware; lenses for glasses; plastic sheeting for glazing and more.

Because of the EU’s restrictions on BPA in baby bottles and thermal paper, some companies are now replacing BPA with other bisphenols (BPS, BPF) that are equally worrying – see our report ‘Toxic Soup’ for details.


Phthalates are a group of chemicals, several of which are used as plasticisers to make the hard plastic PVC soft. Typical uses of such PVC include packaging, cables, flooring and roofing and more.

A number of phthalates, including DEHP, are partially restricted in Europe and require an authorisation under REACH for many uses.

Recycling contaminants

Another process potentially exposing consumer to hazardous chemicals in plastics is the recycling of old plastics into new ones, where the old plastic may contain chemicals that are already restricted or banned. This is a particular issue for phthalates in PVC plastics, and flame retardants in plastic toys and black plastics made using recycled electronics – see our Chemicals and the Circular economy page for more details.

Chemicals in food contact materials

Plastic food contact materials – such as pipes in food factories or packaging – are also a concern. As CHEM Trust has been highlighting, chemicals can be identified as being of very high concern in the main EU chemicals law REACH, yet their use in food contact applications is unaffected – see our Chemicals in Food Contact Materials page for more details.


In response to scientists´ ringing the alarm bells on the presence of microplastics in our oceans, rivers and even drinking water the European Chemical Agency has started to develop a REACH Restriction. CHEM Trust responded to their “call for evidence on the use of intentionally added microplastic particles in products of any kind” in May 2018, and a follow-up consultation on definitions of microplastics in September 2018..

  • Previously, we had also responded to the European Commission’s “Public consultation investigating options for reducing releases to the environment of microplastics“ in October 2017 and responded to a UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on the “Environmental Impact of Microplastics” in April 2016.

We are a co-signatory of several joint statements addressed to policy makers and asking for strong action to tackle microplastics pollution and the threat to the environment and human health: a joint statement submitted at the 1st meeting of the ad-hoc open-ended expert group on Marine Litter and Microplastics in Nairobi in May 2018 and a joint statement on the need for a ban on oxo-degradable packaging organised by the New Plastic Economy in November 2017.

Our first blog on this issue dates back to October 2015 –  “Chemical pollution and microplastics: a present danger to marine life”.

CHEM Trust’s collaboration on plastics

Hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging

CHEM Trust is currently part of a project on Hazardous Chemicals in Plastic Packaging with other NGOs and academic scientists based in Europe and the US. The scientists involved in the project have compiled a database of Chemicals associated with Plastic Packaging (CPPdb). The database contains 4283 substances, 148 substances are known to be hazardous for human health and/or the environment. However, many of the other chemicals in the database have no toxicity information meaning their impact on the environment and people is not known.

For more information about the project read our blogs:

And our briefing:

Break Free From Plastic Movement

In September 2016, CHEM Trust signed the Global Vision for a Future Free of Plastic Pollution launching the international movement Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) and is a core member of the movement.

To find out more about plastics, chemicals and health please do visit these other sites:

Plastics and periods

Together for toxic- and plastic free periods – Health and Environment Justice Support (HEJSupport)

Pollution from plastic production

Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet – Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), February 2019

Fueling Plastics: Series examines deep linkages between the fossil fuels and plastics industries, and the products they produce – Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), September 2017

How fracking supports the plastic industry – Food and Water Watch, February 2017

Chemicals in plastic toys

Toy or Toxic Waste? An Analysis of 47 Plastic Toy and Beauty Products Made from Toxic Recycling – Arnika, December 2017