It Takes More Than 4,000 Chemicals to Make Plastic Packaging New Research Finds

Researchers have found there are more than 4,000 different chemicals in plastic that's used to house food and other everyday consumer goods.
Donna Fuscaldo
Plastic container ljubaphoto/iStock

It's pretty well documented the damage plastic does to marine life and the environment.

But what most people aren't aware of are the harmful chemicals that are used to make plastic packaging for everything from food to water.


Plastic packaging for food as at least 4,000 chemicals in it

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tried to shed light on that mystery and found the number of chemicals that are used to make plastic packaging for food alone is 4,000. And that's a conversative estimate. The researchers think the number of harmful chemicals is even greater than that. 

"The problem is that plastics are made of a complex chemical cocktail, so we often don't know exactly what substances are in the products we use. For most of the thousands of chemicals, we have no way to tell whether they are safe or not," says Martin Wagner, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in a press release highlighting his work. "This is because, practically speaking, it's impossible to trace all of these compounds. And manufacturers may or may not know the ingredients of their products, but even if they know, they are not required to disclose this information."

8 Different plastics are made from lots of chemicals 

List of chemicals for plastics
Illustration: Teleman84, Wikimedia Commons

Wagner, who studies the environmental and health implications from plastics for NTNU led a team of researchers who studied the toxicity and chemical makeup of eight types of plastics commonly used to make everyday products including yogurt cups and bath sponges. Of the products, the researchers including Lisa Zimmermann, Wagner's colleague and first author of the study, examined three out of four contain a toxic chemical. 

Plastic food packaging isn't immune

Relying on cell cultures, the researchers found six out of ten products had chemicals that were generally toxic while four of out ten tested positive for oxidative stress and three out of ten had endocrine-disrupting effects. The researchers said in a paper published in journal Environmental Science & Technology that it was impossible to determine the specific chemicals that were to blame. That means there are a lot of plastic chemicals that are still unknown and are impossible to assess to determine if they pose any health risks to consumers. 

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"Plastics contain chemicals that trigger negative effects in a culture dish," said Wagner in the press release highlighting the researchers' work. "Even though we do not know whether this will affect our health, such chemicals simply shouldn't be in plastics in the first place."