This is plastic
Plastic is a material that can have many different properties. Here, you can read about what plastics are made from. You can also read about some different additives that can be found in plastics and what these additives mean for the plastic, health and the environment.
All plastics contain special molecules called polymers. Polymers are long chains that are made up of a single type of a small molecule called monomers.
Oil is a common raw material in plastic
The molecules that make up plastics almost always come from crude oil. The oil undergoes a number of different processing steps at an oil refinery. The oil is then separated into smaller components. Ethylene, propylene, styrene, and other monomers that are ingredients in plastics can then be sent to the plastics industry.
Additives can leak out of the plastic
In addition to polymers, there are usually various additives in the plastics. These are substances that the manufacturer mixes into the plastic mass to achieve the desired properties in the plastic, for example, to make it soft, flame-resistant, durable, bactericidal, or to colour the plastic. Some plastics contain almost no additives while others contain large amounts. Additives are to some extent unstable inside the plastic and can therefore come up to the surface of the plastic over time and be released from the plastic. They can then end up on our hands, in household dust, in the air and in our waterways. Some of the additives can have harmful effects on health and the environment. For example, some substances may be classified as endocrine disruptors (interfering with hormonal systems).
PVC may contain additives
One example of a type of plastic that may contain additives is polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC. It is a common type of plastic that is found in a lot of different items. It can be hard or soft depending on how much plasticiser (softener) the manufacturer has mixed into the plastic mass. If pure PVC plastic mass is left to cool down, the plastic becomes hard. Hard PVC is used for a number of things, including water and sewage pipes and for various plastic objects, such as hard plastic toys and home accessories. But if the manufacturer mixes plasticisers into the PVC plastic mass, the plastic becomes soft and flexible. Then it can be used in, for example, floors, cables, rainwear, shoes and soft plastic toys. In some PVC plastics, plasticisers can account for as much as 70 per cent of the plastic. Phthalates are an example of a plasticiser group.
In this article Tips for a chemical-smart everyday life, you will find tips that can help you reduce the risks associated with various articles, such as plastic products, and information that will make it easier for you to make informed, chemical-smart choices in your everyday life.
Phthalates are a group of substances that can be used to make plastics and rubber soft and flexible. They can be found in many different types of soft plastic and rubber products, such as exercise balls, exercise mats, bath mats, garden hoses, artificial leather, plastic floors, electrical cords and plastic prints on clothing. Phthalates may also be an ingredient in paint and glue.
The substances can leak from the materials and be absorbed by the body. We can get some phthalates in our bodies through direct contact if, for example, we use something in close proximity to our body that contains these substances. Phthalates have been found in analyses of blood, breast milk and urine.
Not all phthalates are harmful, but some can affect the development of the testicles and make it more difficult to have children, and some phthalates are endocrine disruptors or suspected endocrine disruptors.
Today, many of the most harmful phthalates are restricted or banned in the EU. However, if you have older plastic products in your home or products manufactured outside the EU, they may contain phthalates that are currently regulated within the EU.
For toys in the EU, the rules are especially strict, and harmful phthalates must not be found in these articles.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is mainly used to manufacture epoxy and polycarbonate plastics. Epoxy may be used in electronics, building materials, adhesives/glues, as a protective liner in steel/tin cans and soda cans and in the renovation of water and sewer pipes. Polycarbonate plastic is used in the manufacture of, for example, plastic bottles.
Bisphenol A is a suspected endocrine disruptor that can affect reproductive health. The substance is found in almost all human urine and blood samples. This suggests that most of us are constantly getting low doses of the substance. This is mainly comes from food and drinks that have been in contact with polycarbonate plastic or epoxy, as residues of bisphenol A can leak from the materials.
Bisphenol A is banned in baby bottles throughout the EU. As of January 2020, the substance is also banned in thermal paper which is used in, among other things, receipts and tickets. Sweden has its own ban on bisphenol A in food packaging for children up to three years of age and when relining drinking water pipes. Since January 2017, bisphenol A has been on the EU Candidate List of especially hazardous substances. This means, among other things that upon request, consumers have the right to receive information within 45 days regarding whether a product contains more than 0.1 per cent bisphenol A. There are also strict regulations for how much bisphenol A may leak from toys.