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Recycled plastic is a toxic problem

Recycled plastic is a toxic problem, research confirms

Recycled plastic is no solution to the global problem of plastics pollution

Manufacturing new goods from recycled plastic is often touted as the answer to the global problem of plastics pollution. We call this ‘the circular plastic economy’. It sounds like an elegant solution, until you consider that globally, we recycle only 9% of our plastic. If it’s such a good solution, why aren’t we doing it more? And then there’s  the revelation, according to a recent study, that recycled plastic is more toxic than new plastic. For ‘toxic’, read ‘hazardous to human health’:

“Plastics are made with toxic chemicals, and these chemicals don’t simply go away when plastics are recycled.” – Dr T Karlsson, scientific advisor with the International Pollutions Elimination Network (quoted in Gayle, D 24-.05.23)

Recycled plastic food and drinks containers harbour toxic chemicals

In the first study of its kind, researchers found that food and drink packaging, containers, plates and utensils made from recycled plastic contain a build-up of hazardous chemicals that leach into food and drinks and from there, into our bodies. (Geueke, 22.05.23)

Chemicals of concern in recycled plastic include dangerous toxins like bisphenol and phthalates (known endocrine disruptors), styrene, benzene, heavy metals, and formaldehyde.

Numerous studies link chemicals in plastics to health problems ranging from cancer to fertility issues. Endocrine disrupters are linked to a myriad of health issues, for example. These include problems with fertility, immunity, and the nervous systems, as well as metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity. (Endocrine Society, 24.01.22)

Recycled plastic containers contain endocrine disruptors, amongst other toxic chemicals
Endocrine disruptors, many of which are found in recycled plastics, have a negative impact on human health.

The danger of unidentified chemicals in recycled plastics

What’s even more worrying is that we may not know exactly which, or how many, chemicals are in recycled plastic. In fact, researchers discovered some of the chemicals in recycled plastic in just the past 2 years! More may be to come:

“Some chemicals found in recycled plastics cannot be identified… adding to the risk of repeatedly recycling and accumulation.” (Perkins, 27.05.23)

Recycled plastic containers worse than new plastic

While researchers detetected 461 kinds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in new plastic, they found 573 in recycled material. (Perkins, 27.05.23)

This may be because plastics absorb chemicals, such as household cleaning products, so easily. Also, making recycled plastic goods involves a greater variety and number of plastics than new plastic items. Plus, recycling itself may produce toxic chemicals (Lloyd, 25.05.23). Adding to the problem, recycling plants release microplastics during their operations, polluting water and air, as a new study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials reports. (Brown, 2023)

Reusing plastic food containers presents a toxic problem
Reduce food waste by saving your leftovers, but use non-plastic containers.

Avoid plastic and recycled plastic to protect your health

Although it’s tempting to reuse plastic takeaway containers to store your leftovers (we’re big fans of reducing food waste), don’t. Glass containers are a better option for storing and re-heating food, and you can still make the most of last night’s meal.

When in the supermarket, it might be heartening to see containers proudly stating their percentage of recycled plastic, but if it holds food or drinks, think again. It’s particularly important to choose non-plastic food and drink storage containers for babies and children. You can read more about reducing your baby’s microplastic burden here.

Drink pure water – it’s free from plastics, toxins and chemicals

Back in 2017, researchers found that 72% of UK tap water samples contained microplastics. And therefore, all the toxic chemicals that microplastics harbour. That figure is only likely to be higher now. An even higher percentage of bottled waters – 90% – are contaminated with microplastics. Plastics contamination of drinking water is just one reason to choose a Reverse Osmosis (RO) purification system for your home.  PureH2O purifiers remove microplastics and produce water that’s far purer than any bottled water brand.

Another good reason is that our systems remove not just microplastics, but between 98 and 99.99% of other contaminants and impurities from UK tap water. These include PFAS ‘forever chemicals’, pesticides, fertilisers, heavy metals, drug residues and hormones. Our PurityPRO home water purifier is the ideal choice, because it has a stainless steel drinking water storage tank.

The PureH2O PurityPRO reverse osmosis water purifier has a stainless steel water storage tank
The PurityPRO reverse osmosis water purifier has a stainless steel water storage tank

In conclusion

It’s now clear that recycled plastic is part of the problem, not the solution. It’s important to avoid plastics use in the first place, to protect human health and the health of our planet. And there will have to be better solutions to dealing with the colossal amount of plastic that already exists in the world, than recycling it. Especially recycling it into food and drink containers.


Brown, A et al ‘The potential for a plastic recycling facility to release microplastic pollution and possible filtration remediation effectiveness’ Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances, Volume 10, 2023 accessed 30.05.23

Endocrine Society ‘Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)’ 24.01.22 accessed 30.05.23

Gayle, D ‘Recycled plastic can be more toxic and is no fix for pollution, Greenpeace warns’ Guardian 24.05.23 accessed 30.05.23

Geueke, B et al ‘Hazardous chemicals in recycled and reusable plastic food packaging’ Cambridge Prisms: Plastics, pp. 1-43, 22.05.23 accessed 30.5.23

Lloyd, C ‘Toxins hidden in plastics are the industry’s dirty secret – recycling is not the answer’ Guardian, 25.05.23 accessed 30.05.23

Perkins, T ‘Recycled and reused food contact plastics are ‘vectors’ for toxins – study’ Guardian, 27.05.23 accessed 30.05.23


PureH2O Ltd manufactures, installs and maintains the world’s most innovative water purification systems and the most technologically advanced boiling, chilled and sparkling water taps. Since 1991 we have been committed to providing our domestic and commercial customers with the purest, safest, most sustainable choice of drinking water, which helps them reduce their environmental impact by avoiding single-use plastic bottled water.

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