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Pure Appl. Chem., 2013, Vol. 85, No. 8, pp. 1611-1624

Published online 2013-01-05

Plastics additives and green chemistry

Evan S. Beach*, Brian R. Weeks, Rebecca Stern and Paul T. Anastas

School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA

Abstract: The plastics enterprise depends on a small number of commodity polymers to perform in diverse applications, requiring additives to produce desired properties and performance. Toxic effects and environmental persistence of certain additive chemicals impact the sustainability of the industry. Green chemistry has been and will continue to be applied to find solutions to these issues. This review focuses on alternatives to phthalate plasticizers and halogenated flame retardants, two categories that together account for a significant portion of the global additives market and the global dispersion of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Small-molecule alternatives that exist in various stages of research and commercialization will be discussed, with emphasis on the use of renewable resources. The rise of biorefineries and new bio-based monomers may help overcome existing economic barriers to adoption of alternatives. Increasing the molecular weight of additives or covalently linking them to polymer backbones are two promising strategies for reducing both mobility and toxicity that will also be discussed. Finally, the design of new polymers that show desirable properties without the use of additives will be considered. The substances put forward as “green” alternatives have yet to receive the same level of scrutiny as diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP, also known as dioctyl phthalate) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Cooperation between chemists, engineers, and the environmental health community will be critical to ensure the safety and sustainability of new technologies.
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