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Plastic Chemicals Report: >90% of Quantity Cited Probably Used in Non-Plastics Applications

Updated: Mar 20

 The latest fearmongering report about plastics is out and it's a whopper! The PlastChem report runs to 181 pages and comes with a database of more than 16,000 chemicals found in plastics. Browsing through the report we were intrigued by two datapoints.

  1. Global production of plastics has doubled from 234 million tons in 2000 to 460 million tons in 2019 (page 13).

  2. More than 9 billion tons of plastic chemicals are produced annually. The production volumes of plastic chemicals are probably underestimated here (page 28).


How can it be that production of "plastic chemicals" is almost 20 times the volume of plastics themselves? Well, it's partly due to double-counting of petroleum distillates and naphtha fractions, as well as ethylene and propylene. Then there's the inclusion of gases such as ethane and propane that are used as chemical feedstocks, but also widely in other areas such as heating and fertilizer production.

That still leaves a lot of tonnes of "plastic chemicals" that are not used in plastics, even if we assume a 50% dosage when these chemicals are used as additives. So it's highly likely by any calculation that most of the substances cited in the report and its database are also used in other products such as rubber, paints, coatings, aerosols, fertilizers, adhesives and solvents, etc.

Don't get us wrong. We are not saying that analyzing the various chemicals contained in plastics, even if they are present in trace quantities or used in very niche applications, is not warranted not required. What we are asking for is balance and perspective. Can we at least be told where the other 8 billion-plus tonnes of chemicals are actually used and whether there is potential for harm to human health there?

Of the 15 priority "plastic chemical" groups cited in the report, perhaps two (bisphenols and phthalates) can be considered to be widely used in plastics. Other such as chlorinated paraffins and benzothiazoles, are likely used in lesser quantities.

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