If you have any kitchen supplies or toys made from black plastic, you may want to think twice about having them in your home. A recent study published in Environment International sounded the alarm that black plastic may contain harmful chemicals. Black plastic is used in many of our everyday products that end up either in our mouths or coming in contact with our food. Popular items include cutlery, takeout containers, food trays, drink stirrers, and cooking utensils. Toys made from this type of plastic is also worrisome since children love to put everything in their mouth. Scroll down to read more below or watch the video where Plaine Products CEO, Lindsey McCoy, hits the highlights!
Ironically, the health concerns about black plastic stem from the recycling process. Unfortunately, it is not easy to recycle because it gets its color from carbon black, a type of industrial pigment additive used for its durability and deep shade. The black pigment is not easily identified by the infrared sensors used in most plastic sorting facilities to separate out different types of plastic materials. This means that black plastic usually gets sorted as regular waste and ends up in a landfill instead of being recycled as intended.
Black Plastic often made from e-waste
Because it can’t get recycled, new black plastic needs to be created from other sources to meet consumer demand. Many of these products end up being made from the plastic parts of electronic and electrical equipment waste (e-waste). The problem is that electronics typically contain toxic substances like the flame retardant bromine; antimony; and heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. Recycling plastic from e-waste is now introducing harmful chemicals into our consumer products.
In order to find out how widespread the e-waste problem is, researchers involved in the study tested the levels of various chemicals in more than 600 black plastic products. Shockingly, both bromine and lead were found extensively in non-electrical black consumer products. In fact, many of the products contained concentrations of bromine and lead that exceeded legal limits. This is troubling since exposure to bromine has been linked to cancer, diabetes, developmental disorders, reproductive issues, and thyroid problems. Lead also has well-documented health risks such as hindering physical and mental development. We certainly don’t want to be putting these chemicals in our mouths!
Until the recycling industry can develop new technologies to ensure that harmful substances are eliminated from recycled waste, it’s a good idea to avoid black plastic to protect our health—especially those items that come in contact with our food—and look for safer alternatives.
Here are some tips to rid black plastic from your life and stay safe:
- Wherever possible, opt for materials like wood, ceramic, cast iron, steel, and glass in your kitchen. See our post 12 Easy Ways To Store Food Without Using Plastic.
- Replace plastic cooking utensils like spoons and spatulas with those made from wood or bamboo.
- Ditch the single-use plastic plates and utensils.
- Avoid takeout venues that use black plastic containers. Look for places that use cardboard and paper instead. Try educating the restaurant staff about the risks of using black plastic to encourage them to make the switch or ask if you can bring your own containers to take the food home.
- Never microwave your food in plastic containers.
- Learn more about going plastic-free in the kitchen.
So, what should you do with all of that black plastic sitting around your house? Until we have a better way, the Plastic Pollution Coalition recommends that you just throw out these items in the garbage. Do not try and recycle them because that will only add to the problem. This is quite the dilemma since black plastic makes up about 15 percent of U.S. waste, so this can really add up and impact our environment.
There is some hope on the horizon, however. Scientists are working to discover new ways to turn black plastic waste into safe materials that benefit our lives. They have already figured out a way to make electrical wiring out of it. Hopefully, more innovations will follow.
This is the latest in a series exploring the health impacts of plastics in our daily lives. Be sure to read the previous blog posts in the series, Why We Need to Understand the History of Plastic Before We Can Tackle The Problem, How Plastic Packaging Can Impact Our Health and How Our Plastic and Carbon Footprints Are Intertwined.