New anti-plastic alternatives becomes new “Corona virus”​ for environment and hygiene safety


Rimantas Damanskis, expert in plastics sector and circular economy, member of LINPRA board, shares his views on today’s relevant topic – Plastics VS Alternatives for plastics.

“Public events without plastic, reusable cups, reusable food packaging, change with something, but not plastic” – today, became main headline of every environmentalist agenda.

“Sustainability, carbon footprint, NO one way, just reusable” and many other slogans heard today from European commission down to Vilnius “Kaziuko muge” (Public Spring market)

Business newspaper publish headlines “First event without plastics“, “Follow example”

It was proudly announced that new “sustainable” solutions were found and new sugar cane food packaging replacement were used by all traders even it cost 3 times more. but brings “real value” to environment and hygiene. Traders found sustainable alternatives for food.

Politicians announce that Lithuanian joined European Plastic Pact and will go to reduce single serve packaging with reusable or will go to replace plastic with another “, much better” and alternative solutions which today flows to the market without any control or regulations.

Reality is much different and today is not clear who will take responsibility about not controlled flow of new materials that are not hygiene safe but also do not belong to any recycling stream.

Newest research in Germany and Belgium shows that new alternatives of sugar cane packaging contains formaldehyde and cannot contact with food at all. Society was warned to avoid using that “new material” packaging at all. Laminates appears in the market which look like paper but laminated with plastic eliminates possibility to recycle. Local petrol stations proudly announce about paper cups but they forgot to mention that they are covered with PE plastic in order to keep temperature and to separate these layers in during recycling is impossible.

The current market situation sees retailers and politicians and food companies pushing packaging manufacturers to supply materials alternative to plastic packaging, which are often presented as “sustainable” as they utilize components derived from natural sources. Sugar cane, bamboo fibres, leaves and other plant derived products are increasingly used in these products, however, as most of them do not possess sufficient size stability, use of binders becomes necessary to maintain shape and minimum mechanical properties of the final articles.

Common binders consist of melamine-formaldehyde resins, and the final product would be constituted of a fibre / resin compound. The regulatory status of these articles would of course depend on the composition, and may indeed be very variable depending on such composition.

Recent studies carried out by the German BfR (1) have demonstrated that these articles are not necessarily suitable for food contact applications, in particular for repeated use articles such as cups, bowls and other reusable containers due to high migration of the monomers, in particular formaldehyde (that is a recognized class 1 carcinogen).

 Untreated wood flour and fibres used in these articles are currently allowed as plastic additives for manufacturing of food contact articles in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 (FCM N. 96). They were included in the list of additives based on the assumption of inertness. However no toxicological evaluation underlying the inclusion of this entry in the positive list is available, and EFSA was recently requested by the EU Commission to re-evaluate the substances. EFSA concluded that there is insufficient information to support that the current authorisation of wood flour and fibres is still in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 (2). EFSA suggested a case by case approach to safety determination of the articles containing the concerned substances.

Hygiene specialist strongly recommend to use “single use” face masks and if possible single use packaging in public places and hospitals to reduce Corona virus threat when on other hand politicians pressing retailers to promote reusable solutions or replace hygienically approved and recyclable plastic packaging solutions by formaldehyde filled or non-recyclable alternatives with become a real threat for environment. But food packaging is exactly the same as face mask, who can guarantee hygiene if it is reusable or washable. It should be a must in public areas and hospitals to use single use items in order to secure antivirus and hygiene safety. Everybody agrees that these materials should be part of circular economy and meet European hygiene requirements.

I strongly recommend to read new real fact based publication about plastics impact to environment before making solutions for sustainable future