Material flow analysis of chemical additives in plastics: A critical review

Jiayu Wang, Faith Ka Shun Chan, Matthew F. Johnson, Hing Kai Chan, Yunhan Cui, Jingwen Chen, Yong Guan Zhu, Wei Qiang Chen

Research output: Journal PublicationReview articlepeer-review


The exponential growth in plastic production and usage has escalated global concerns about plastic pollution, particularly regarding harmful chemical additives. Understanding the anthropogenic cycles of these additives is the prerequisite to developing effective strategies for plastic pollution control and a toxics-free circular economy. Here we analyze 269 anthropogenic cycles of plastic additives by reviewing 42 extant academic articles to identify research gaps and needs. Based on their characteristics and the available knowledge, we classify these plastic additives into five research priority levels, with 3,116 designated as “urgent level”, further subgrouped into 17, 14, and 20 additive categories considering their functions, polymer types, and application sectors, respectively, to inform future investigations. Four key research gaps are highlighted: limited research coverage for hazardous chemical additives, lack of specificity to plastic products, incomplete consideration of life cycle stages and relevant flows, and insufficient attention to policy implications. To close these gaps, we recommend expanding the scope of plastic additives with a specific focus on urgent-level cases, exploring all chemical flows tailored to various plastic types, enhancing the quality and accessibility of relevant data, and fostering a mechanism for strong science-policy-society interactions on the management of plastic additives. This review offers a roadmap for advancing research on material flow analysis of plastic additives and sustainable plastic management.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2024


  • Anthropogenic cycle
  • Hyunjung “Nick” Kim
  • material flow analysis
  • plastic additives
  • Plastic pollution control
  • sustainable plastic management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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