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Studies by Environmentalists and NGOs Reveal High Levels of Toxic Substances in Plastic Toys

Last month, Genon Jensen, founder and executive director of the Health and Environment Alliance (“HEAL”), reported on the results of the tests conducted by HEAL and the NGOs Arnika and IPEN on over 500 toys produced from recycled plastic. According to Jensen, the results of the tests revealed that many of these toys contained brominated flame retardants coming from electrical and electronic waste. These chemicals are said to affect thyroid function in children, resulting in disrupted brain development and attention deficits. Moreover, 10% of the toys and other plastic products tested contained brominated flame retardants, highly toxic chemicals that are banned in the EU.

Hong Kong traders might recall that on 18 December 2018, the European Environmental Bureau – an organisation gathering various green NGOs – reported that around 250 toys of plastic contained dangerous levels of toxins, notably endocrine disrupting phthalates (endocrine disrupting chemicals classified as ‘substances of very high concern’, some of which have been banned for many years). Back in December 2018, it was reported that a data analysis of alerts sent via the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Non-Food Products evidenced that around 250 plastic toys (e.g. dolls, modelling clay, slime and balls) contained illegal levels of toxic substances. Test results revealed that 18% of 5,625 toys tested positive for a range of controlled substances non-compliant with the regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (“REACH”).

Referring to the effects on human health, HEAL revealed that the daily exposure to low doses of chemicals in virgin or recycled plastics has a long-term effect on human health. Studies show that the chemical additives used in plastics, many of them hormone-disrupting chemicals, are linked to serious diseases and health conditions including infertility, obesity, diabetes, breast and prostate cancer.

With regard to the laws currently enforced, Jensen considers that these are too weak to properly address the problem of toxic substances found in toys. Jensen further explains that, although HEAL has been advocating for European and national decision-makers to enact environmental laws that protect and promote human health, decision-makers seem not to recognise that chemicals do affect human health and stronger laws and regulation to prevent such hazard are needed. However, HEAL claims that there is a notable discrepancy between the growing public movement against plastic pollution and the weak responses coming from official institutions.

Jensen claims that decision-makers have evaded the plastic problem for far too long and the main response these have provided to date has been focused solely on banning some single-use items. HEAL highlights that the restriction on microplastics, that is currently in the making, is a step in the right direction but will not solve the larger problem. The bigger issue is the weakness of policy and regulations that allows health-harming chemicals to be used in the production of plastics.

According to Jensen: “if we are serious about addressing the plastic challenge, the real issue to tackle is to cut plastic production and use, and to regulate the chemicals that are used to produce plastics. From toys to consumer products and food packaging, cutting our intake of plastic requires a serious detox on chemicals.

As a new European Commission and Parliament are taking office, NGOs claim that the reduction of hazardous chemicals found in plastic products should be a real priority to focus on in the next five years.

As has been previously reported, the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has committed to proposing a European Green Deal within the first hundred days of office. She also committed to including a zero-pollution objective and to reduce human exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

HEAL explains it welcomes this commitment and hopes it translates into four concrete points:

  1. Better, faster and more protective regulation of the chemicals that are going into plastics.
  2. Faster identification of chemical substances of very high concern, which are often used for the production of plastics.
  3. A change in the pattern of regulation, making it impossible to use chemicals of the same family with very similar properties.
  4. Making sure that a substance of very high concern can never make its way into food packaging, toys or other consumer products.

Jensen explains that the message from environmentalists to European institutions is clear: zero plastic production means strengthening laws and policy for a serious reduction of toxic components in plastic products.

Hong Kong traders should expect that there is likely to be a reaction by EU policy and law makers to the EU production and import of these types of plastic toy products in the future.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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