Bioplastics no safer than other plastics, says study

They also triggered stronger toxic reactions under laboratory conditions

bioplastic A packaging blister made from cellulose acetate, a bioplastic | Wikimedia Commons

Bioplastics are just as toxic as other plastics, according to an article recently published in Environment International.
Conventional plastic is made from oil. The production of plastic is not sustainable, and it can contain substances we know are dangerous if ingested.
Bioplastic has some apparent advantages: it is usually made from recycled material or plant cellulose, it can be biodegradable—or both.

"Bio-based and biodegradable plastic is not any safer than other plastics," says Lisa Zimmermann from Goethe Universität in Frankfurt. She is the lead author of the recent article.
Zimmermann points out that products based on cellulose and starch contained the most chemicals. They also triggered stronger toxic reactions under laboratory conditions.

"Three out of four of these plastic products contain substances that we know are dangerous under laboratory conditions, the same as for conventional plastic," says Martin Wagner, associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Department of Biology.
Wagner is one of the collaborators for PlastX, a research group at the Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung (ISOE) in Frankfurt. This group has just led the work on the largest survey to date of chemicals in bioplastics and plastics made from plant-based materials.

They have looked at toxic substances in these types of plastic. The substances can be directly toxic to cells in the laboratory, or they can act as hormones that in turn can disturb the body's balance.
The study includes 43 different plastic products, including disposable cutlery, chocolate packaging paper, drink bottles and wine corks.
"Eighty per cent of the products contained more than 1000 different chemicals. Some of them as many as 20 000 chemicals," says Wagner.

It is almost impossible to keep track of absolutely all the possible harmful effects of so many different materials.
Even seemingly similar products have their special chemical composition. A plastic bag made of bio-polyethene can contain completely different substances than a wine cork made of the same material.

"Making general statements about certain materials becomes almost impossible," says Wagner.
At present, the consequences this has for the environment and people's health are still uncertain.