PlastChem project

Norwegian Research Council (project no. 341954)
NTNU (coordinator)
Empa (CH)
Food Packaging Forum (CH)
Runtime: 2023–2024
Budget: NOK 2.2m

Project summary

Despite plastics being widely used in and highly relevant for societies, the knowledge base on their chemical composition and the impacts of plastic chemicals on humans and the environment is fragmented. Accordingly, an authoritative resource that enables evidence-based policy development to better protect public health and nature is missing. The PlastChem project will produce such resource in form of a high-quality state-of-the-science report that synthesizes the scientific evidence on hazardous substances in plastics and prioritize these chemicals and the polymers they are contained in.

To achieve this, the project will consolidate information on >15000 plastic chemicals from existing databases, polymer mass flows, scientific and market data to systematically compile hazard and exposure information on chemicals and polymers. The resulting PlastChem database will be used to group plastic chemicals according to structure and to prioritize groups of chemicals using a weight-of-evidence approach, considering hazard, exposure, and market data. The priority chemicals will be linked to the polymers they are contained in based on empirical evidence (i.e., detection in plastics). In addition, we will evaluate the whole-migrate-toxicity of all chemicals leaching from plastic products, thus, including unknown chemicals and mixture effects. Both will be used to prioritize polymers widespread in society and nature, and relevant for a circular economy. To ensure policy relevance, we will assess and prioritize regulatory needs in close collaboration with the advisory board and other experts. This interaction will also guide the project implementation and ensure that the state-of-the-science report is tailored to the pertinent policy needs.

The report and the PlastChem database as main project outputs will be authoritative resources for developing policies that promote a non-toxic environment in line with the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability and the global plastic treaty.

Project objectives

The primary objective of the PlastChem project is to produce a state-of-the-science report of the scientific evidence on hazardous substances in plastics. The report will provide a robust knowledge base for informed policy development and identify regulatory needs to reduce the spread of plastic chemicals and polymers of concern. Particularly, PlastChem will

– provide a comprehensive overview of all plastic chemicals,
– identify groups of chemicals of concern and link those to the polymers and products they are used in, – prioritize chemicals and polymers based on hazard, exposure, and market information,
– summarize mass-flow information for polymers to guide regulatory action to specific areas,
– synthesize the compiled scientific evidence to assess and prioritize the regulatory needs.