Please send this message to supermarkets and manufacturers.
The problem: I saw a "made from 100% recycled plastic" label on my soda bottle and other food packaging
Why it is a problem: Plastic that comes into direct contact with wet foodstuff should never be made of recycled plastic, because it will chemically react and release unwanted substances into the food, which always happens with all plastics to some degree, especially if the food is acidic (juices, lemonade, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.) or the container is subjected to heat or sunlight.
Concerning recycled plastics, consumers and manufacturers cannot escape to rely on blind faith alone in order to determine if the source materials have not been contaminated with toxic substances commonly found in other plastics, such as Bisphenol A, plastic softeners, other auxiliary chemical agents or whatever potentially harmful substances from the utilized waste stream sources that may have accidentally entered the recycling chain. Some of the substances that are commonly found in high quantities in plastic waste are highly potent in the microgram range and can for example cause abnormal mental and physiological developments in children, such as feminization, diabetes, obesity, ADHD or autism.
In addition to that, the percentage of additives and pollutants found in the material necessarily increases with each additional recycling cycle. A plastic bottle that has already been recycled 10 times in a row also contains 10 times as many additives. Additives are a necessary part of the recycling and production process. This way we could easily end up drinking from plastic bottles that are hundreds of times more contaminated than pristine plastics. All plastic additives are a potential health hazard and have only been classified as safe, because they are rendered mostly inert inside the polymer, so that the small amounts released into the food from pristine plastics are generally considered to be negligible. However several studies have shown that this is not universally true, especially if heat and acid are at play, and the assumed rate of release is multiplied by orders of magnitude.
Recycled plastic has no place in food packaging like drinking bottles, cheese or meat wrapping, in which the food comes into direct contact with the plastic and the food is in a wet/processed state, which makes it chemically reactive. This plastic must always be freshly made, as it has always been the case so far, in order to avoid potential health concerns.
Problem: "100% recycletes Plastik" aufgedruckt auf Limonadenflaschen und anderen Lebensmitteln
Grund: Plastik welches in direktem Kontakt mit feuchten Lebensmitteln kommt, sollte nicht aus recycletem Plastik bestehen, denn es wird chemisch mit diesen reagieren wodurch sich unerwünschte Stoffe aus dem Material lösen, insbesondere wenn die Lebensmittel säurehaltig sind (Säfte, Limonade, Essig, Tomaten, etc.), Hitze oder Sonnenlicht ausgesetzt wurden.
Bei recycletem Plastik ist es nicht vertrauenswürdig nachvollziehbar, ob nicht hochgiftige Stoffe wie Bisphenol A oder andere Plastikweichmacher bzw. Schadstoffe aus dem wiederaufbereiteten Abfallmaterial versehentlich oder unwissentlich in das Endprodukt gelangt sind. Manche der Stoffe die man allgemein in hohen Mengen in Plastikabfall findet sind teilweise schon im Microgramm Bereich schädlich und verursachen z.B. abnormale geistige und physiologische Entwicklungen bei Kindern, wie Feminisierung, Diabetes, Fettleibigkeit, ADHS oder Autismus.
Außerdem potenzieren sich die Anteile von Hilfsstoffen bzw. Schadstoffen mit jedem weitere Recycling-Zyklus. Eine Flasche die bereits 10x hintereinander recycled wurde beinhaltet auch 10x so viele Hilfsstoffe, die für die Herstellung von Plastik notwendig sind. So könnten wir letztendlich aus Plastikflaschen trinken die 100x höher belastet sind als neues Plastik. Hilfsstoffe sind gesundheitlich immer bedenklich, auch wenn sie insofern als sicher eingestuft wurden, alsdass sich in der Regel nicht extreme Mengen aus einem neuen nicht-recycletem Plastik lösen, was in der Praxis auch nicht immer und so wirklich der Fall ist (insb. nicht wenn Hitze und Säure im Spiel sind). Studien haben gezeigt, dass die Freisetzungsraten um Größenordnungen abweichen können.
Recycletes Plastik hat nichts in Verpackungen wie Trinkflaschen oder Käsepackungen zu suchen, wo das Lebensmittel in einem feuchten oder bereits verarbeiteten Zustand in direktem Kontakt mit der Verpackung kommt und so chemisch reagieren kann. Dieses Plastik muss aufgrund der möglichen gesundheitlichen Bedenken immer frisch hergestellt werden, so wie es bisher auch immer praktiziert wurde.
So what should we do now?
Concerning bottled water switching to glass bottles is comparably very expensive, and for very good reasons. A reusable glass bottle is almost as heavy as the water that it carries, whereas a single-use PET bottle can hold 100 times its weight in water (it weighs about 15g). Glass also needs to be transported inside heavy plastic boxes that shield it from damage, and the empty bottles also need to be transported back to be reconditioned and refilled. This means that the trucks transporting the bottles use more that twice the fuel, which makes up most of the carbon footprint of PET bottled water. In addition to that glass bottles have to be made inside extremely hot furnaces running at around 20 times the temperatures required by PET bottle manufacturing. At 100 times the mass of a PET bottle, this is not negligible, even if a glass bottle is on average reused 50 times in a row. It translates to roughly 2000 times the energy from heat during glass bottle manufacturing, or 40 times the energy for each time you use it. This calculation is obviously much much worse for single-use glass containers, which have by far the worst carbon footprint of all food packaging. On the other hand PET bottles from a refund system have a close to 100% recycling rate and can be made into other materials, e.g. polyester fabrics, non-food packaging or casings for electronic devices, which means that they are not a pollutant to the environment.
So due to the high carbon footprint, glass bottles are obviously very bad for the environment. Naturally, this directly reflects in price (twice as expensive), as it also does with any other product, at least roughly as a rule of thumb.
Fortunately water quality in Germany is very high, and you can simply use tap water here. In a lot of regions the tap water is on par or even superior to a lot of bottled water brands. However due to the recent drought and heat wave here, the quality of our water reservoir has suffered somewhat, which is why I personally had switched to bottled water temporarily.
I also preferred to use PET bottles as drinking bottles, because they were guaranteed to be food-safe and free of pollutants. When you buy a plastic bottle on Amazon, you really don't know much of anything about it. The original manufacturer could be in the developing world, where standards are as low as 8 year old children permanently living inside giant waste dump towns and making a living by collecting any sort of plastic item for recycling. There could also be harmful additives in it to make it more durable. Metal bottles will cause more mercury to dissolve from amalgam fillings by electrochemical reaction, and aluminium is toxic much like mercury itself. This only leaves glass bottles now that PET bottles have become questionable. They are a huge waste of space though in a back pack, twice as heavy too, and they damage easily.
Concerning other food packaging, there seems to be no option but to write complaint letters or go into politics. If you only consider how pervasive aluminium has been in food packaging, despite its extreme toxicity with up to 7 year long half-life, then it is obvious that this will probably just lead nowhere at all. Up to this day some aluminium still comes into direct contact with food, due to lack of plastic lamination, and in fact most of a person's aluminium load is directly caused by food packaging. If people are not outright dropping dead from the poison but only poisoned a little bit, it just doesn't pack enough punch in politics to change much of anything at all.
This recycling fad is clearly going too far where it is starting to impact our health and it pushes us into alternative solutions that are in fact much worse for the environment. People need to move away from the idea that recycling is universally good, and that plastic is universally bad. Such a blind attitude only proves to be exploitable and harmful to everyone.