New evidence emerges almost daily about the failure of our chemical management system to protect public and environmental health. Toxic chemicals in toys, costume jewelry, baby bottles, and packaging exemplify the failure of our current chemical management system. Consumers and citizens are increasingly aware of the links of toxic chemicals to health problems and are demanding that product manufacturers act to clean up their chemical and material ingredients.
The overall goal in manufacturing is to establish processes that support sustainable production and minimize the direct environmental impacts of the production process — ultimately moving toward regenerative processes. Clean Production Action defines four core steps to sustainability: clean production processes, clean products using safer chemicals and renewable materials, closed loop systems and, ultimately, leading to the “BioSociety,” a regenerative economy based on renewable resources. SBC’s Guidelines for Sustainable Bioplastics and Clean Production Action’s website provide more information on how to reach this goal.
Source: Steps to Clean Production – www.cleanproduction.org
One of the challenges in the development of bioplastics is that their mechanical traits, such as barrier properties, are often not as good as those of petroleum-based plastics. One solution by companies is to use nanotechnology. Nanotechnology refers to the research and development at the atomic, molecular, or macromolecular level using a length scale of approximately one to one hundred nanometers in any dimension; the creation and use of structures, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small size; and the ability to control or manipulate matter on an atomic scale. Nanotechnology covers a wide range of materials and techniques with a range of unknown risks. In fact, it has been argued that the number of new materials that can be created using nanotechnology may be as extensive as the number of existing known chemicals. Every nanomaterial should therefore be analyzed and treated separately.
The unusual properties of nanoparticles raise the potential for harm to human and environmental health.
Unfortunately, these risks are poorly understood and there is an urgent need to investigate and better understand them. Materials at the nanoscale have a large surface area compared to their mass, making them less stable and more reactive. In the environment, some nanoparticles may conglomerate and thus cease to be nanoparticles, but others may retain their size and react with the environment in harmful ways.
Concerns also arise from evidence that when some nanoparticles enter the body through inhalation, consumption, or skin contact they can penetrate cells and tissues, causing biochemical damage in humans and other animals. Exposure could occur in the research lab, during production in the workplace, during use, or after disposal. Disposal may be particularly problematic when the products are composted, as the nanomaterials then become exposed to the environment during the process of degradation.