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- Do it yourself – but safety first
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Article related to: communicating_about_safety
Mapping plastic additives
Plastics contain substances that are added during production to give them a desired property. But what do we know about these additives and their safety? ECHA and industry sector organisations have mapped a range of plastic additives used in Europe. This information will provide a better basis for ensuring the safe use of these substances.
Widely used substances
For the first two REACH registration deadlines in 2010 and 2013, hundreds of substances with potential uses as additives in plastics were registered in the higher tonnage bands for 100 tonnes or more per year.
The high volumes tell us that the substances are widely used, but for many of them there are still uncertainties about their hazard characteristics and potential risks to human health and the environment.
Although substances added to a plastic polymer matrix are meant to stay there to deliver the planned function for the entire length of the product’s service life, a fraction of the additive is often unintentionally released. This can affect the safe use of the product.
To address these issues, ECHA and 21 industry sector organisations, including additive manufacturers and downstream users, kicked off a project in late 2016 to characterise the uses of plastic additives and their potential for release from articles.
Overview of more than 400 substances
The joint project generated an overview covering 428 high-volume substances confirmed by industry as being used in the EU as functional additives or pigments in plastics. The substances are divided into:
- flame retardants;
- nucleating agents;
- heat stabilisers;
- UV/light stabilisers;
- other stabilisers; and
The project partners from industry were asked to provide additional information on functions and concentration ranges, as well as the polymer types that these additives are most commonly found in.
Method for supporting authorities in prioritisation
The authorities will use the overview of substances to determine which ones are of potential concern and need further scrutiny and which ones are of low concern and therefore of lower priority for further work.
To support authorities in prioritisation, the project developed a method for comparing the release potential of plastic additives. The method is meant to be used together with the hazard information of the substance to determine which substances need more in-depth assessment to conclude on their safety.
Companies, in turn, can use the method to decide which registration dossiers they should update as highest priority and to identify where safe use information communicated down the supply chain needs to be further improved.
To apply the method, information is needed on physical-chemical properties of the substances, for example, molecular weight and water solubility, in addition to the information available in the overview. This can be found in registration dossiers that are publicly available on ECHA’s website.
The method can also help in comparing the release potential of additives that have the same technical function. As such it is useful when considering substitution of hazardous substances with safer alternatives.
Despite the large number of substances included in the overview, it should not be considered complete. For example, the list only contains those substances that EU industry has confirmed are being used as plastic additives. Those plastic additives that are only used in imported plastic articles, as well as substances registered for amounts lower than 100 tonnes per year, were excluded from the overview. The scope of the project was limited in this way so that the focus could be on substances that are most widely used and have a higher potential to cause concern.
Plastic additives initiative
The project has been coordinated by the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), PlasticsEurope, European Plastics Converters (EuPC) and ECHA. Experts from academia, Member State authorities and the European Commission have supported the work.
The plastic additives overview will support ECHA’s work contributing to the EU Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy adopted in January 2018 and to the 2020 goals of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Further information:Mapping exercise
We spoke with Ms Marianne van der Hagen, Senior Adviser in the Chemicals Sector of the Norwegian Environment Agency, and Ms Maggie Saykali, Director of Specialty Chemicals at Cefic, to find out why the initiative is important to them and how the results can be used.
|Marianne van der Hagen. |
Image: Tor Øystein Fotland.
Useful tool for prioritisation
Both industry and authorities hope that the overview can be used to prioritise substances for risk assessment and further regulatory work.
“We are looking at the possibility of conducting a national project on measuring the migration of plastic additives from plastic articles. Depending on the outcome of the plastic additives initiative, we hope to be able to use its results as material for our own project. Our unit within the national authority covers all the processes of REACH and CLP. We hope that the overview will make it easier for us to prioritise substances for, for example, manual screening and the follow-up processes. We are very curious on the next steps, since many of these substances still need to be scrutinised and we hope to participate in that work,” Ms van der Hagen says.
The overview is not only useful for authorities – it can also help registrants when they review their registration dossiers. “As we were able to gather more information from downstream users about their uses of plastic additives, registrants can now correct the data about substance use and exposure potential where needed,” Ms Saykali explains.
Improved supply chain communication
In Ms Saykali’s view, the project delivered on its aim to improve the safe use of chemicals along the supply chain. “It was clear from the start of the project that we needed all project partners to use the same terminology for uses of plastic additives. We at Cefic, together with our members, are actively working on this aspect to ensure that correct information on substances is well communicated and well received downstream.”
|Maggie Saykali. |
Based on her observations towards the end of the project, Ms van der Hagen shares Ms Saykali’s view on the initiative’s impact on supply chains. “It is evident that supply chains for plastic products are very complex. Without supply chain cooperation it would not have been possible to create this overview. Therefore, I hope that the project has improved communication both up and down the supply chain and that it has a lasting effect on this sector.”
A model for future cooperation
“This project clearly demonstrates the value of a collaborative approach. ECHA provided an overview of substances registered under REACH, industry provided the knowledge of their uses and behaviour, and academic experts helped develop a model to estimate release potential,” Ms Saykali says.
Ms van der Hagen also highlights the added value of this particular kind of cooperation. “The most important aspect for me is that the list is confirmed with registrants and the plastics industry.”
“The initiative is a great example of how institutions and industry can work together to produce tangible results that are useful to both regulators and the industrial supply chain. We believe that it can be used as a model for future assessments of other groups of substances,” Ms Saykali concludes.
Text and interviews by Päivi Jokiniemi
Published on: 21 February 2019
Top image: © Pixabay_rkit
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