Plastic is toxic.

Vanessa Koch — — 5 minutes

Platic is toxic. And this in both senses of the word. On the one hand, the material itself is poisonous, on the other hand it has the "ability" to bind toxins from its environment.

Plastik ist Gift.
Photo: gonzales2010 by / CC BY-NC-SA

Many plastics already contain harmful substances and softeners during their production, which damage our hormone balance, disturb the metabolism and are carcinogenic. Many packaging and everyday objects such as yoghurt pots, drinking and shampoo bottles, cooking spoons, storage cans or children's toys consist of a veritable mix of chemicals.

These additives, such as certain UV stabilizers, plasticizers or flame retardants are toxic and are released and pass into the air, house dust or even food. Or they enter our bodies in this way or through physical contact and sweat.

What substances are we talking about?


Plasticizers are designed to make fabrics softer, more flexible and pliable. 87% of the plasticisers consumed in 2012 were used in plastic products, followed by rubber products, paints and varnishes 1 They are also used in adhesives. Plasticizers are among the best-selling chemicals and include low-volatile carboxylic acid esters, fatty oils, soft resins and camphor. Some plasticizers are harmful to health and the environment. Phthalates in particular, which account for a 70% market share of plasticizers, are known for this and are now banned in many applications. Liver, kidneys and testicles can be attacked. For some phthalates, such as DEHP, a hormone-like effect has been proven. They can impair the ability to reproduce and damage the unborn child. The phthalate plasticisers are not firmly bound to the plastic. They can escape into indoor air and be dissolved and absorbed by liquids, but especially by fat.

Because they are harmful to health, some phthalates must not be used in toys, childcare articles and cosmetics. In the case of packaging for foodstuffs, they are only permitted with restrictions, or the manufacturers must comply with limit values. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) maintains a list of substances of very high concern. Among them are certain plasticizers. In future, these substances may only be used in approved exceptional cases. But be careful, because the limit values are not always adhered to.

Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A is produced synthetically and serves primarily as a starting material for the synthesis of polymeric plastics based on polyesters, polysulfones, polyetherketones, polycarbonates and epoxy resins. BPA is therefore of great economic and technical importance. BPA is also used as an antioxidant in plasticizers and to prevent polymerization (polymer formation reaction) in polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It is a component of many products of daily use such as plastic bottles, plastic toys, thermal paper, the lining of cans, floor coatings made of epoxy resin - to name but a few. According to the "Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland" (BUND), six million tons of BPA are produced worldwide every year, almost half a million of which are produced in Germany.

Endocrinological societies and the WHO categorize BPA as an endocrine disruptor, i.e. a substance with a hormone-like effect, and consider it proven that even in the smallest quantities BPA contributes to the development of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, thyroid disorders, developmental disorders in children and infertility in humans.

Plastic is a polymer. Due to its compound loving polymers, plastic also has the property of binding with other substances. Many of these substances enter into compounds with the plastic, accumulate and thus enter the food chain. These can be starting materials, plasticizers, stabilizers or flame retardants - such as bisphenol A or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB). This means that as soon as plastics enter the body, the substances dissolve and accumulate in the body. On the other hand, plastic attracts pollutants that are present in the environment. Such as toxins from rivers, industrial waste water, agriculture, dumping, decomposition products from waste or shipping. These are heavy metals, organic substances, radioactive substances, nutrients such as fertilizers and banned insecticides such as DDT, Bisphenol A, or TBT.

When we eat fish then we absorb the plastic and all the pollutants. Some of them are difficult to get rid of and some of them are concentrated in fatty tissues or are distributed in the bloodstream. Their side effects are manifold. They have a negative effect on the hormone balance, thus disturbing fertility, are carcinogenic, lead to metabolic disorders, obesity or diabetes.

A study in Japan has found that fish, partly due to the intake of marine plastic, had such a high concentration of pollutants in their bodies that they should have been disposed of as hazardous waste. Instead, they end up on our plates. Although there are regular examinations of fish catches by ministers, environmental associations and institutes, there are no bans yet, although almost every fish is contaminated with harmful substances.


The effects of plastic on our health are manifold. It will be several years before it becomes clear how dangerous they really are. We should take the animals in the sea as a worrying example, they are already dying from the plastic we use and throw away. And that's why there's only one solution: no plastic!

1 – Ceresana Research: Market study plasticizer, November 2013