A study, led by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), shows a high level of toxicity in compostable plastic bags, which increases with photodegradation, that is, when ultraviolet rays affect them.

This preliminary study has analyzed the toxicity of compostable plastic bags, conventional plastic bags and other recycled plastic in zebrafish cells, reports the CSIC.

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For the research, led by scientists from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC), the Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC) of Barcelona and the Susplast platform, and published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, an extraction of the bags was carried out to analyze the toxic compounds that could be released into the environment.

During the study, the toxicity of these compounds with zebrafish cell lines was evaluated in three different situations: directly, from the samples of the bags; after a simulation of aging of the bags with ultraviolet rays (photodegradation); and through the small fragments of the bags that remained after becoming fertilizer or quality compost.

Finally, the fertilizer resulting from the composting process of the bags was analyzed.

"We were surprised that the cells exposed to conventional plastic bags showed no traces of toxicity. However, we did detect it in biodegradable ones, which decreased the viability of the cells", explains Cinta Porte, lead author of the study and researcher at IDAEA-CSIC.

Porte points out that the hypothesis is that manufacturers "add chemical additives to make biodegradable bags that could be especially toxic."

In addition, recycled plastic bags also showed higher levels of toxicity than conventional ones, since plastic additives would also be added for reuse.

"OK compost"

The biodegradable plastic bags, which can currently be found in the fruit and vegetable section of supermarkets have the "OK compost" seal, which indicates that they comply with the characteristics and current legislation to be industrially compostable.

The study led by the IDAEA-CSIC shows that the toxicity observed in compostable bags is transferred to the fertilizer during the biodegradation process, which affects the accumulation of pollutants, which can affect the environment and negatively impact the health of the population.

"The toxicity observed can derive both from the additives used during processing, and from the fragments of biodegradable plastics produced during composting," adds Amparo López Rubio, researcher at IATA-CSIC, where they have a Certification Unit for the Compostability and Biodegradability of materials.

López considers it necessary to thoroughly investigate the migration and ecotoxicity of these new materials and establish a good regulatory framework, based on scientific evidence, to ensure their safety before they reach the market.

"We need an open and transparent interaction with companies that allows us to advance in the development of materials that, in addition to being more sustainable, are safe," he adds.

The specific chemical compounds added to these compostable bags could not be identified in the study, as many additives are protected by patents.

"Although each manufacturer can add different additives to their products, we have observed that all biodegradable bags have similar levels of toxicity," says Tiantian Wang, first author of the study and predoctoral researcher at IDAEA-CSIC. EFE.