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European Commission | Detecting micro- and nanoplastics released from food packaging: challenges and analytical strategies

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ABSTRACT - Micro- and nanoplastic (pMP and pNP, respectively) release is an emerging issue since these particles constitute a ubiquitous and growing pollutant, which not only threatens the environment but may have potential consequences for human health. In particular, there is concern about the release of secondary pMP and pNP from the degradation of plastic consumer products. The phenomenon is well-documented in relation to plastic waste in the environment but, more recently, reports of pMP generated even during the normal use of plastic food contact materials, such as water bottles, tea bags, and containers, have been published. So far, a validated and harmonized strategy to tackle the issue is not available. In this study, we demonstrate that plastic breakdown to pMP and pNP can occur during the normal use of polyethylene (PE) rice cooking bags and ice-cube bags as well as of nylon teabags. A multi-instrumental approach based on Raman microscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and particular attention on the importance of sample preparation were applied to evaluate the chemical nature of the released material and their morphology. In addition, a simple method based on Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy is proposed for pNP mass quantification, resulting in the release of 1.13 ± 0.07 mg of nylon 6 from each teabag. However, temperature was shown to have a strong impact on the morphology and aggregation status of the released materials, posing to scientists and legislators a challenging question: are they micro- or nanoplastics or something else altogether?



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