Safety

Who Makes Sure Plastic Products Are Safe?

Regulatory professionals in the plastics industry are responsible for ensuring the safety of the products their friends, family and neighbors will eventually use.

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Plastics that are used in food packaging—for example, the film keeping your meats and vegetables fresh—are tested rigorously for safety by the Food and Drug Administration, sometimes even more stringently than the food they protect.

But by the time a type of plastic packaging even makes it to the FDA, it’s already been tested several times by the company that manufactures it and by highly trained professionals who have friends and families just like any of us.

The people who work to make sure plastic products comply with regulations are experts in chemistry and toxicology. They often work with research and development teams to ensure products are safe through continuous research that informs insight and innovation, as well as marketing/sales professionals to communicate to shoppers that plastic is safe.

Meet Monica Filyaw, director of quality, safety and regulatory affairs at PolyQuest; program chairwoman for the International Symposium on Worldwide Regulation of Food Packaging; and mom of two. She has a degree in chemical engineering, has spent her 23-year career in the plastics industry and has been focused on regulatory for the past 12 years.

Folks performing [regulatory] tests and ensuring compliance are not paper pushers. They challenge the cross-functional teams to ensure all information is being communicated and the project is being executed as described.

When it comes to testing and compliance, Monica says there’s no one-and-done test for plastic packaging—multiple tests are performed on plastics at every stage of the production process, and companies will often perform testing that goes above and beyond what’s legally required in order to ensure everything is safe for consumers.

I don’t want to be the person who got something wrong or made people sick—it could be my kids, my friends or my family using these products. That thought is never out of my mind.

Beth Trenor is an advanced regulatory specialist at Milliken Chemical. Her husband also works at Milliken, and they have a 3-year-old son together. Beth’s been in her current role for about 6 years. She supports Milliken’s Plastic Additives business which creates innovative compounds for making plastics clearer, tougher, easier to process or more aesthetically appealing according to customer demand.There is a battery of tests before a type of packaging is even considered. New-to-the-world chemistry could take years for full approval, and even existing chemistry will undergo a thorough review every time.

There are situations when people want timelines to be shortened. There are no shortcuts. We do things correctly, and we do things to ensure they’re safe.

For Beth, it’s important that people understand the testing that products must go through to ensure they can be used safely.

I try to avoid the negative comments [about plastics and their safety] on Facebook. It’s almost offensive to me. It’s like they’re saying I’m not doing my job.

Articles about the alleged dangers of plastics are sensationalized and often lack proper research, according to Beth. Unfortunately, these are the pieces of information that people tend to share most frequently online.

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