April 14, 2022
A tool to help plastics manufacturers identify safer additives is being made freely accessible to help accelerate the development of safer single-use plastics and other recyclable materials. The Plastic Additive Optimization Tool enables users to check the chemical hazard profile of over 1100 different additives used in plastics. It has been jointly developed as an output of the Safe + Circular Materials Collaborative, a partnership between ChemFOWARD and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC).
With funding provided by the Passport Foundation and Foundation Didier et Martine Primat, the tool’s developers say it should be used to accelerate the substitution of hazardous chemical additives by safer alternatives, first targeting single-use plastic packaging and other recyclable materials. The tool includes information on over 160 safer additive alternatives, enabling users to make robust decisions when determining substitutions for chemicals with known hazards.
Plastic additive safety is critical to circularity
Last year a study suggested that nearly 2,500 chemical additives used in plastics were toxic or their toxicity was unknown. Tackling this issue is critical to the circular economy so that dangerous additives are not recycled into new products, which could lead to humans or the environment becoming exposed to unknown risks.
Stacy Glass, ChemFORWARD co-founder, and executive director says: “By offering this subset of our full chemical optimization platform for free, we aim to raise awareness of the need for safer chemistry to achieve circular aspirations and incentivize additive suppliers to assess and list their safer additives by trade name.”
Recognizing the current focus by governments, industry, and NGOs on tackling plastics issues (see Commentary), Glass adds that ChemFORWARD and the SPC made the decision to seek funding to support open access to the data to remove barriers to substitution. While the initial priority is packaging, Glass says: “There is no question that the same dataset will have value for other sectors and users.”
Building the data
The Collaborative has released an initial dataset as a starting point focusing on generic chemicals organized by Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number (CAS#), function, and material compatibility. In the coming months, trade name additives that have been assessed and verified by a third party will be added and featured on the site.
Stakeholders are invited to help make the shared dataset more robust. This may include:
- NGOs, universities, and other researchers are invited to submit peer-reviewed research that outlines specific chemicals, functions, and material compatibility that can be tagged and loaded into the dataset;
- Brands, retailers, and manufacturers can sponsor chemical hazard assessments with approved third-party toxicology firms to assign hazard ratings for high priority chemicals that lack data in the current dataset; and
- Suppliers with safer alternatives can have their trade name materials assessed through the ChemFORWARD SAFER process and added to the tool.
Suppliers can also use the tool to pre-screen additives to see if they meet the qualifications for the SAFER designation.
How does the tool work?
The tool uses recognized assessment methods including the UN Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classification and labeling of chemicals and the Cradle to Cradle Material Health Methodology to assign hazard ratings, as well as publicly-available GreenScreen and the US EPA Safer Chemicals Ingredients List (SCIL). The free Plastic Additive Optimization Platform provides hazard band ratings for each chemical additive – ranging from:
- A, B, and C which are considered safer alternatives;
- F, which is considered unsafe; and
- A question mark (?), which is used to indicate where hazard data is lacking and a chemical hazard assessment is recommended before use.
Users can search by chemical name, CAS number, function, and material compatibility within the tool. To look at a product portfolio at a glance, users can create a “project” and add chemicals. For those rated F or ?, the tool suggests safer alternatives relevant to the function of the additive selected. The results show chemicals tagged with that function, ordered with the best hazard ratings at the top. Filters by material compatibility can be used to narrow results. Relevant regulatory and non-regulatory lists are also displayed.
If data is needed beyond the hazard band rating, users can pay per chemical to receive access to full hazard tables and endpoint rationales.
Glass added, “To avoid hazardous chemicals in plastics recycling, all stakeholders need to take concerted efforts, starting by increasing information accessibility.” This is one of the driving forces behind the ChemFORWARD–SPC partnership. The Safe + Circular Plastic Additives Optimization Tool will support the rapid elimination of chemicals of concern and the optimization of safer plastic feedstocks options to accelerate circularity.
The Safe + Circular Materials Collaborative was formed to address the challenges of ensuring that packaging materials are safe for human health and the environment and fit for circularity by contributing quality inputs back to raw material feedstocks at their end of life. The concurrent pilot project, run by ChemFORWARD, collected, assessed, and verified solutions/additive packages supplied by the SPC’s members to determine safe packaging building blocks.
Plastics are only one topic being addressed by the effort. The SPC’s definition of sustainable packaging takes into account a variety of factors, including ensuring that packaging is made from materials that are safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout the package’s life cycle. Karen Hagerman, Director of the SPC, says: “Regardless of material, we work with our members to transition towards a sustainable packaging system. For many typical plastics, that means a lot has to change – and the reduction of harmful additives is absolutely moving in the right direction.”
To this end, the SPC will host the CleanPackage registry of trade name materials where manufacturers and converters can source materials that have been verified safer through a rigorous third-party assessment process. This registry of trade-name solutions will accelerate adoption of verified safer material building blocks for packaging. Several PFAS-free solutions are currently undergoing assessment and are expected to launch with the registry later this year.
The goal of this work is to fill in some of the blanks when it comes to the materials used in packaging and provide a cost-effective and reliable source of verified data.
The Plastic Additives Optimization Tool can be accessed from: www.chemforward.org/plastic-additives
To read the commentary on why plastics producers need to pay more attention to additives, visit: https://www.chemforward.org/why-plastic-additives.