They are found in the walls, floors and furniture of our homes and offices, in our children’s toys, in our favourite electric gadgets, in almost all packaging – they are even found in the groceries we buy from the supermarket. “What are”, you might ask?
Phthalates – the hard-to-spell chemical group that is used (mainly) as plasticisers in plastics.
Due to the rampant consumption of plastics in the world today, and the fact that phthalates are the go-to chemicals when it comes to plasticisers for this material, it means that these chemicals penetrate every nook and cranny of our daily lives.
Leaving out the world’s plastic consumption, this would not have been a big problem – had it not been for the fact that phthalates are toxic and hazardous for human health and the environment.
“Phthalates have been on the agenda for a long time, and have been known to be hazardous for several decades. Despite this, they’re still used in copious amounts. There are safer alternatives available, it’s only a matter of switching to them” says Dr. Jonatan Kleimark, Senior Chemicals Advisor at ChemSec.
“There are safer alternatives available, it’s only a matter of switching to them”
ChemSec, together with ChemTrust, Food Packaging Forum and scientists from the universities of Gothenburg and New York, formed part of a multi-year research project on hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging. In the project, phthalates were identified as one of the biggest culprits.
“In the report, we explore current uses and regulations connected with phthalates, but we put most effort into investigating the safer alternatives, trying to guide the way towards successful substitution”, says Dr. Kleimark.
Even if there are many alternatives to phthalates available on the market, one must be careful not to perform what is called a regrettable substitution. This is when you replace one hazardous chemical with another one that turns out to be equally hazardous – something that, unfortunately, happens a lot.
Therefore, it is necessary to be certain that the alternative is actually safer. Some initiatives – like ChemSec’s Marketplace – aim to make safer alternatives more visible by gathering them in a global database so that companies can find them more easily. The database is connected to a business-to-business platform where potential buyers can connect directly with the supplier of an alternative.