Letting children play with plastic toys that can be removed from the hand can pose a health risk. When researchers from the University of Gothenburg tested a large number of old toys and clothes made of plastic, it was found that 84 percent of the items contained toxins that can impair children’s growth and development and reproductive abilities. These toxins are an obstacle to a future circular economy involving reuse and recycling, the researchers explain.
Current use and disposal behavior is a waste of resources and a drain on Earth’s finite resources. In 2021, the European Parliament adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan. It promotes the reuse, repair and recycling of products and materials. But the question is whether all products are suitable for reuse
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg recently published a paper in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances that shows that old toys and clothes can contain toxic chemicals that can cause cancer, damage DNA or impair children’s future reproductive abilities.
Toxic chemicals in most old toys
The dangerous chemicals that were found included phthalates and short-chain chlorinated paraffins used as plasticizers and flame retardants in toys.
Professor Bethany Carney Almroth of the University of Gothenburg conducts research on the environmental impact of plastics and plastic-related chemicals and led the research, which was conducted at the interdisciplinary Center for Future Chemical Risk Assessment and Management Strategies (FRAM). For the study, the researchers selected 157 different toys, new and old, and measured their chemical content.
The study found that most of the older toys and items (84 percent) contained amounts of chemicals that exceeded current legal limits. A total of 30 percent of newer toys and items also exceed legal limits. Until now, however, the older toys were significantly worse.
“Concentrations of toxic substances were significantly higher in the older subjects. For example, many of the old balls were found to have phthalate concentrations amounting to more than 40 percent of the weight of the toy, which is 400 times the legal limit,” says Bethany Carney Almroth.
Toxins are an obstacle to the circular economy
EU legislation on the chemical content of toys, known as the Toy Safety Directive, regulates the permissible amounts of a range of chemicals found in toys in an attempt to protect the health and safety of children. Currently, the permissible limits for new toys under the Toy Safety Directive are 0.1 percent by weight for phthalates and 0.15 percent by weight for short-chain chlorinated paraffins.
“Research shows that reuse and recycling are not always automatically a good thing. The transition to a more circular economy requires bans and other policy measures that remove hazardous chemicals from plastics and other materials. Although the Toy Safety Directive is crucial to reducing the spread of dangerous chemicals in toys, it only applies to new toys, not old ones,” explains Daniel Slunge, an environmental economist at the University of Gothenburg.
Reference: Carney Almroth B, Slunge D. The circular economy may expose children to hazardous phthalates and chlorinated paraffins through old toys and childcare items. J Haz Mat Adv. 2022;7:100107. doi:10.1016/j.hazadv.2022.100107
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