Soft plastic, harsh truth: almost one-third of the articles made of soft plastic that were tested contain toxic substances

16.12.2020 - PRAGUE / BELGRADE
Soft PVC can be dangerous. Just ilustrative image.
PHOTO: Arnika (archive)

Phthalates banned by EU legislation in concentrations higher than 0.1% [1] were found in almost one-third of the articles from the Serbian market that were tested (10 out of 36 products). These alarming findings were revealed as part of a joint project focusing on the regulation of phthalates in Serbia. The project was carried out by a Serbian non-governmental organization, ALHem, and the Czech NGO Arnika.

Phthalates, mostly used as plastic softeners despite their toxic effects on human health, have been found in various plastic products such as school bag, girls’ bag, raincoat, children’s slippers, a PVC ladies’ makeup/toilet bag, a PVC fabric tarpaulin, imitation leather, PVC wallpaper, and car mats. These products were bought in well-known shops and were mostly produced in the EU and by domestic producers with registered trademarks. In some of the products, the concentrations of phthalates were up to 18% of the total product weight.

“It is alarming that phthalates are found in products used mostly by children and young people. In addition, the four phthalates that were analysed were detected in raw materials such as PVC fabric and PVC imitation leather, and here, the exposure for consumers could be significant,” explains Valentina Mart, the main author of the report from ALHem – Alternative for Safer Chemicals.

The full report is available HERE >>>

The main objective of the project is to speed up the legislative process in Serbia to restrict phthalates and all other banned substances under the REACH Regulation, which would result in better protection for Serbian consumers. “Upon request both producers and retailers are obliged to provide information on whether their products contain substances of very high concern (SVHCs), including phthalates [2]. The right to know is embedded in the REACH regulation, as well as in the Serbian Law on Chemicals. Revealing toxic phthalates in everyday products and subsequent consumer pressure to obtain information about the presence of SVHC in products will ultimately motivate companies to replace toxic substances with safer alternatives,” stresses Karolina Brabcova, Arnika's expert on toxic substances.

Apart from analysing phthalates in consumer products, the project examined the fulfilment of the companies’ obligation to inform consumers about the presence of substances of very high concern. “We sent requests to producers and retailers but did not receive any information about the presence of phthalates, even though ten samples contained phthalates in concentrations above 0.1%. The obligation to communicate about SVHCs within the supply chain should be a priority for the competent authorities, bearing in mind the hazardous properties of these substances. The legislation in Serbia related to chemicals and, specifically, restrictions and SVHC substance management should be fully harmonized with the EU legislation,” warns Mart.

To avoid the risk of buying products containing dangerous substances, experts recommend avoiding articles made of plastic polymers, especially PVC. PVC material can contain softeners such as phthalates. The Scan4Chem app can be used to send a request to the retailer or manufacturer for information on whether these products contain substances of very high concern.

Our activities are funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic from the Transition Promotion Program, the IPEN network (International Network for the Elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants), and the Global Greengrants Fund.

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[1] Since July 2020, in the EU four phthalates have been restricted: bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) in a concentration above 0.1% in consumer products. However, this restriction has not yet been transposed into the Serbian legislation and products containing these four phthalates can be legally placed on the Serbian market.

[2] The requests were sent via the consumer app Scan4Chem. For more information about the app, SVHCs, and companiesʼ obligations, see:,,

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