Assessment of Metal Contaminations Leaching Out from Recycling Plastic Bottles upon Treatments

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Environmental Science and Pollution Research



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Background, aims, and scope

Heavy metal contaminants in environment, especially in drinking water, are always of great concern due to their health impact. Due to the use of heavy metals as catalysts during plastic syntheses, particularly antimony, human exposure to metal release from plastic bottles has been a serious concern in recent years. The aim and scope of this study were to assess metal contaminations leaching out from a series of recycling plastic bottles upon treatments.


In this study, leaching concentrations of 16 metal elements were determined in 21 different types of plastic bottles from five commercial brands, which were made of recycling materials ranging from no. 1 to no. 7. Several sets of experiments were conducted to study the factors that could potentially affect the metal elements leaching from plastic bottles, which include cooling with frozen water, heating with boiling water, microwave, incubating with low-pH water, outdoor sunlight irradiation, and in-car storage.


Heating and microwave can lead to a noticeable increase of antimony leaching relative to the controls in bottle samples A to G, and some even reached to a higher level than the maximum contamination level (MCL) of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) regulations. Incubation with low-pH water, outdoor sunlight irradiation, and in-car storage had no significant effect on antimony leaching relative to controls in bottle samples A to G, and the levels of antimony leaching detected were below 6 ppb which is the MCL of USEPA regulations. Cooling had almost no effect on antimony leaching based on our results. For the other interested 15 metal elements (Al, V, Cr, Mn, Co, Ni, Cu, As, Se, Mo, Ag, Cd, Ba, Tl, Pb), no significant leaching was detected or the level was far below the MCL of USEPA regulations in all bottle samples in this study. In addition, washing procedure did contribute to the antimony leaching concentration for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. The difference of antimony leaching concentration between washing procedure involved and no washing procedure involved (AC) was larger than zero for samples A to G. This interesting result showed that higher antimony concentration was detected in experiments with no washing procedures compared with those experiments with washing procedures. Our study results indicate that partial antimony leaching from PET bottles comes from contaminations on the surface of plastic during manufacturing process, while major antimony leaching comes from conditional changes.


The results revealed that heating and microwaving enhance antimony leaching significantly in PET plastic bottles. Plastic bottle manufacturers should consider the contaminations during manufacturing process and washing bottles before first use was strongly recommended to remove those contaminants.

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