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Are plastics good or bad for us?

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Modern life would be almost impossible to imagine without plastics; these innovative materials can be found in just about everything we touch and use on a daily basis. But some plastics have developed a bad reputation, and many people are increasingly worried about how safe plastic products are to their health. Can plastic packaging, for example, contaminate food? Are plastics safe for use in a microwave oven? Is it safe to put a plastic water bottle in the freezer? Can plastic feeding bottles leak harmful chemicals into babies? The truth is that plastics are generally safe when used for their intended purpose. Let's look at some facts about plastics.

Legislation on plastics is very strict

Many of today's plastics contain chemicals and additives that are used to help improve the performance of the product. Before these chemicals can be used however, they have to conform to very strict guidelines. For example, any chemical manufacturer from anywhere in the world wishing to introduce a new substance into the European market - on its own, as part of a mixture or in a plastic product - has to compile a REACH dossier on that substance, and submit it to the European Chemical Association ECHA. REACH is the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EG 1907/2006), and stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. So, before any material made from plastics is allowed into the European market, it has to conform to strict REACH legislation. And under REACH legislation, any chemicals currently in use must be replaced with more environmentally-friendly alternatives when they become available. In this way, REACH works to protect our health and the environment.

Even stricter rules apply for food applications

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The European Food safety Authority (EFSA) was set up in 2002 to evaluate the toxicological dossiers of every substance used in food and in food packaging via risk assessment, and to provide independent scientific advice based on the most up-to-date scientific information and knowledge. EFSA's task is to improve food safety and ensure a high level of consumer protection. This applies not only to plastic, but also to all of the food ingredients as well. All plastic products used for food applications have to conform to the strictest EFSA standards. The plastics industry also provides lots of information relating to any questions about the properties of plastics and their safe use.

Plastics bring potable water safely to our homes

Plastics play an important role in the transport and distribution of our drinking water. For this application, all water pipes, fittings, and related parts are strictly regulated by law and certified by independent bodies and testing institutes like KIWA in the Netherlands, TZW and HY in Germany, and IPL and CARSO in France.

Plastics are safe when treated properly

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There's no doubt that plastics and the substances they contain are some of the most tested and controlled products in Europe. The strict rules imposed by REACH, EFSA and the Ministries of Health, Environment and Building and Construction ensure that any risk to our health is minimised. It’s very important that we continuously keep investing in research and even stricter regulations, and to keep the consumers informed about the results and alternatives. Plastics are always designed specifically for a particular application; they should never be used in applications where their suitability has not been confirmed. It might seem a needless thing to say, but plastic is not something to experiment with. You should always read the instructions on the product; they will tell you how to use and dispose of it safely. Then you can enjoy the convenience and practicality of plastics!

Let's not forget that plastics can save lives!

Today’s healthcare would be impossible without the plastics products used in medical applications: disposable syringes, intravenous blood bags and heart valves are just some examples. Plastic packaging is particularly suitable for medical applications thanks to its exceptional barrier properties, light weight, low cost, durability, transparency and compatibility with other materials, all strictly regulated by the European Pharmacopoeia and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA). Plastics make healthcare more accessible to ALL people in the world. Let's finish with a wonderful example of how plastics have been literally turned into a life-saver: on June the 9 th 2011 a heart patient in the UK received an artificial heart made from plastics. This temporary bridge-to-transplant heart is designed to keep the patient alive until a suitable organ is available, There’s no doubt that this successful technique will continue saving lives as more people benefit from receiving similar operations around the world.

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