There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the toxicity of plastics and bioplastics in recent months. There are two dimensions to this issue:
- rational / scientific dimension
- public opinion / public perception
The “toxicity” issue is related to plastic additives.
The most common (bio)plastics additives are plasticisers, flame retardants, antioxidants, acid scavengers, light and heat stabilisers, lubricants, pigments, antistatic agents, slip compounds and thermal stabilisers.
These additives may be safe according to safety regulations but are often perceived by the public as being non-natural and as a potential health hazard.
The root of the problem goes back to the food industry when people started to become cautious about what kind of additives where added to their foods.
The roots of the problem also goes back to the cosmetic industry and more specifically to chemicals that come into contact with our skin.
Face cream, day cream, night cream, sun cream, anti-age cream, moisture cream, hand cream, body cream, after sun, etc.
We’ve been using all kinds of creams for many years without looking at the ingredients list.
However, there has been a relatively recent phenomenon. More and more people are looking at the list of ingredients and are basing their purchasing decision on the presence of “clean” chemicals or on the absence of “dirty” chemicals.
Clean vs Dirty
What is “clean” and what is “dirty” in the public opinion?
Chemicals will be considered as “dirty” or “unhealthy” if they’re endocrine disruptive, carcinogenic, allergenic or irritant.
The public will also judge the chemicals on their origin.
- Fossil-based or petrochemicals will be referred to as “chemical” and perceived as “dirty”.
- Bio-based / plant-based chemicals will be referred to as “natural” and perceived as “clean”.
Reality and Perception
Firstly, clean and dirty are not scientific or rational terms.
Secondly, many scientists will tell you that there’s no difference between fossil-based and bio-based chemicals in terms of health hazard.
Thirdly, it’s not because a chemical is perceived as dirty that it’s actually a health hazard; it’s not because a chemical is perceived as clean that it’s necessarily safe.
However, one should not forget the golden rule of psychology …
There’s a difference between reality and perception. Perception is more important especially when it comes to analysing and understanding human behaviour.
People will associate fossil-based chemicals as “dirty, bad or dangerous” for their health and skin because we associate “fossil” with crude oil and crude oil with oil spills.
Why ? Most of the crude oil images that we’ve seen on television are usually in the context of oil spills…. a filthy black slime that kills everything on its way.
The public perceives bio-based or plant-based chemicals as “noble, cleaner and healthier” compared to fossil-based chemicals.
From Product to Packaging
There’s a trend towards clean, organic and plant-based beauty products. Now comes the second act…. packaging
If there’s a trend to switch from fossil-based chemicals to bio-based or plant-based chemicals for cosmetics products, one may be tempted to assume that this “perception” and “trend” may spill over to the packaging. It will, it has.
Some marketeers may have understood the equation …. Why produce “clean” cosmetics and wrap it in “dirty” packaging?
Go the extra mile, push the envelope … go “clean” all the way … go “plant-based” all the way.
Remember, in the public mind or perception … there may be a contamination risk for the plant-based cream due to the presence of dirty petrochemical additives in the packaging.
Unique Selling Proposition
The toxicity debate is not equal for bio-based and fossil-based. Fossil-based doesn’t have to be perceived as “clean”. “Cleanliness” is a USP for bio-based, it may well be “the” unique selling proposition of bio-based.
When European Bioplastics published the following opinion on their website …
Nobody is involved in a competition to gain the status of “less toxic”. There is no ranking. Compliance is a binary condition: yes or no (Article)
That’s where they don’t get the subtle difference between scientific opinion and public perception. It’s like burning a joker or ace in the beginning of the game because you don’t know the value of it or because you don’t know how to play the game!
When it comes to toxicity … biobased and fossil-based are not equal; there’s a competition or ranking to be less toxic…. bio-based should win it.
PFAS are also used as plastic additives. I could write a whole article on PFAS. There are almost 5.000 different types of PFAS. Many PFAS are resistant to grease, oil, water, and heat. Please click on the following link to read more about PFAS