(MENAFN - Jordan Times) As more and more Jordanians stock their kitchens with plastic kitchenware, experts are warning against the health and environment risks attached to the improper use of plastics.
From water and juice bottles, to cups, plastic bags and dairy containers, many Jordanians reuse plastic materials for storing foods and beverages without knowing that some are made for one-time use, while others have restrictions on how they can be used safely.
Experts in health, environment and food safety are calling on people to pay attention to the plastic codes printed on the bottom of plastic bottles and containers, and to store food and water in glass or stainless steel containers rather than using plastic.
"Some plastic cans or bottles, which are used for storing chemical substances, absorb the chemicals they store. When recycled into new bottles or cans, they contaminate the foods and beverages kept in them," said Mohammad Khashashneh, director of the Ministry of Environment's Hazardous Substances and Waste Management Directorate.
Certain types of plastic packaging, such as PET/PETE (polyethylene terephthalate), HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), and LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), are used either for storing food and beverages or as a packaging material for meat or vegetables, according to experts in the field.
"Some owners of food or beverage plants don't abide by health laws regulating plastic use for storing food and drinks. They violate regulations stipulating that food and drinks must be kept in food-grade plastics," Khashashneh noted.
He added that the ministries of health and environment have banned storing or carrying food in black plastic bags, which were widely used by bakeries until the 1990s.
"Black plastic bags are 5 per cent recycled plastic. Food, water and beverages must be kept in virgin food-grade plastic," the official said, noting that virgin plastic means plastic that has never been recycled.
Empty water and juice bottles are often reused in households for storing water, oils, or homemade pickles, but experts said that such practices are risky.
"Because plastic packaging leaches chemicals into food and drinks, it is dangerous to keep them stored for a long time," water expert Elias Salameh said, noting that water should be stored in plastic bottles for no longer than one week.
Rania Shashaa, a housewife, said she keeps empty plastic bottles and containers for storing food and liquids.
"I clean water and juice bottles and reuse them for storing water in the fridge during summer or for keeping oil, rice or sugar," the Jabal Amman resident said.
"I have never inspected the plastic bottles, cups, or containers to see what they are made of and never noticed the codes," Shashaa, a mother of five, told The Jordan Times.
Director of the Jordan Food and Drug Administration's Food Department, Mohammad Khreishah, noted that bottles are made of different types of plastics, underscoring that materials used for storing and packaging food must be made of a high-quality plastic like polypropylene.
Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide variety of applications including packaging, textiles, stationery and plastic parts. It is unusually resistant to many chemical solvents, bases and acids, according to web sources.
"Food and drinks must be stored in packaging materials made from virgin food-grade plastics. They must be used once and then discarded," Khreishah said.
Water bottles must be used once and then trashed, because reusing them may contaminate the stored water or food, he warned.
According to the food safety expert, the reuse of water containers purchased from water purification plants across the country is wrong and impacts public health.
"Some plants fail to properly sterilise the containers, so they become contaminated after repeated use," Khreishah highlighted.
Many consumers of bottled water said they have the containers delivered to their houses and don't know whether they have been cleaned.
"I receive a 20-litre canister twice a week I assume that health authorities monitor the process," said Wael Khalaf, a salesman at home furniture outlet.
Some water purification plants fail to abide by health regulations requiring the sterilisation of the containers, according to Bashar Abu Salim, director of Amman's Health Department.
"Water canisters must be sprayed with disinfectants on the outside and thoroughly cleaned with the same substance on the inside to kill all germs," he said.
The department carries out regular unannounced inspection visits to purification plants, collects samples and conducts microbiological and chemical tests to ensure the water is safe and the containers are well sterilised, he noted.
"Plants that violate any of our regulations are immediately shut down," Abu Salim stressed.
Currently, around 80 per cent of the central region's residents buy their drinking water.
There are 32 bottled water factories, 542 water purification plants and five mineral water bottling factories in the Kingdom, according to Ministry of Health figures, which indicate that the bulk of the plants are concentrated in the central region.
However, the most damaging plastic product, which the ministry is struggling to limit, is the plastic bag.
"Plastic bags are dumped in frightening numbers in Jordan, and pose environmental and health hazards," Khashashneh said.
Every individual uses an average of 1.5 plastic bags per day and 500 plastic bags per year, according to official figures.
"A total of three billion plastic bags are used in Jordan every year, only 20 per cent of which find their way to landfills, while the rest end up in the streets, polluting the environment," the official highlighted.
Plastic bags are extremely harmful to the environment and public health, Khashashneh said, noting that they cause visual pollution and that thousands of livestock die every year from ingesting them.
"Use of plastic bags is a never-ending cycle: The best biodegradable plastic bags need 40 years to decompose, while the rest need 400 years before they fade from our environment," he explained.
Every individual generates one kilogramme of solid waste every day in Jordan, while 16,000 tonnes of solid waste are generated daily throughout the country, according to the ministry's figures, which also indicate that 400 waste compactors are used for compressing waste, half of which are for plastics.
With more than 5.7 million tonnes of solid waste generated annually in the Kingdom, experts said that a growing consumerist lifestyle has meant that 20 per cent of the collected solid waste in Jordan is now made of plastic, which takes hundreds of years to decompose.
Pollution is also inevitable when improperly disposing of plastic materials, according to Khashashneh.
"When burned, plastics emit highly hazardous and carcinogenic gases," he said.
"Poor awareness" about safe storage of food and the meanings of the plastic codes - which inform consumers about plastic containers that can be reused and those to stay away from when storing food and drinks - is a challenge, experts said, calling for campaigns to educate the public on safe use of plastics.