Black Plastic Food Containers made from Recycled Laptops Expose Consumers to Hazardous Chemicals

Well, you have heard it before: Not all recycling ends up being good for the environment or for humans.  Such appears to be the case with electronic products like laptops that are recycled and then used to make black plastic food containers.  These plastic food containers, researchers have just discovered, contain hazardous chemicals such as bromine, antimony and lead, which can potentially migrate into the food being stored inside them.


Recycled electrical products lead to hazardous chemicals appearing in everyday items

Hazardous chemicals such as bromine, antimony and lead are finding their way into food-contact items and other everyday products because manufacturers are using recycled electrical equipment as a source of black plastic, according to a new study.

The chemicals are among those applied to devices, such as laptops and music systems, as flame retardants and pigments but remain within the products when they reach the end of their useful lives.

Now scientists at the University of Plymouth have shown that a combination of the growing demand for black plastic and the inefficient sorting of end-of-life electrical equipment is causing contaminated material to be introduced into the recyclate.

“As well as posing a threat to human health, the study demonstrates there are potentially harmful effects for the marine and coastal environment either through the spread of the products as litter or as microplastics.”

-Dr Andrew Turner, researcher of toxic substances in everyday products, Environmental Science at the University

Black plastic food containers are not the only items made from recycled electronic appliances like laptops that consumers are exposed to:

Researchers found that cocktail stirrers, coat hangers, various items of plastic jewellery, garden hosing, Christmas decorations and tool handles, had concentrations of bromine that potentially exceeded legal limits. In other products, including various toys, storage containers and office equipment, concentrations of lead exceeded its legal limit for electrical items.

Recycling of electronic waste exposes consumers to harmful toxic chemicals:

“Black plastic may be aesthetically pleasing, but this study confirms that the recycling of plastic from electronic waste is introducing harmful chemicals into consumer products. That is something the public would obviously not expect, or wish, to see and there has previously been very little research exploring this. In order to address this, further scientific research is needed. But there is also a need for increased innovation within the recycling industry to ensure harmful substances are eliminated from recycled waste and to increase the recycling of black plastic consumer products.”

-Dr Andrew Turner, researcher of toxic substances in everyday products, Environmental Science at the University


Journal Reference:  Andrew Turner. Black plastics: Linear and circular economies, hazardous additives and marine pollution. Environment International, 2018; 117: 308 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.04.036