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Did you know that a ban on the sale of PFAS-containing food packaging in California, New York, and Washington takes effect on December 31, 2022? The PFAS ban is in Assembly Bill 1200, which became law in October 2021. This also included unassociated new requirements for chemical disclosure in cookware.
PFAS, found in food packaging and other products, has contaminated drinking water sources across the country. This has been happening since it came into the market at the beginning of its manufacture. As a result, they have built up in the environment where they will not break down for a very long time.
California and other states will implement a PFAS ban on takeout containers in January 2023. Find out what to expect here.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds. These are compounds used in the manufacturing of consumer goods since the 1940s. It's a large class of compounds with numerous practical applications.
Also commonly called "Forever chemicals", PFAS are in the products we use, the food we eat, and the water we drink. PFAS are so prominent that traces can even be found within our blood.
Due to their combination of hydrophobic and hydrophilic qualities, these compounds are excellent at repelling water, oil, and stains.
We use PFAS to manufacture watertight, stain-resistant, and non-stick goods. For example:
- Food packaging
- Nonstick cookware
- Stain-resistant fabrics
- Some carpets
- Other products with similar properties
PFAS are man-made and do not exist naturally. However, PFAS transfer into the environment, specifically air, soil, and water, as we manufacture and use them. Most PFAS remain in the environment for lengthy periods, even after a product is composted.
There is evidence that high levels of exposure to PFAS, especially those studied more, may lead to, for example:
- Higher cholesterol levels
- Less response to vaccines in children
- Higher risk of preeclampsia in pregnant women
- Higher risk of kidney and testicular cancer
These are only some of the effects of PFAS. There are many more. For this reason, it's important that we minimize the use of PFAS in manufacturing consumables and go green by using alternative food packaging.
Concerns of PFAS In Food Packaging and PFAS Ban
Concerns are growing about the widespread use of these chemicals, particularly in the food packaging industry. Particular attention is in:
- Molded fiber takeout containers
- Food and burger wrappers
- Salad bowls
As previously stated, these chemicals find their way into food, particularly in reheated food. Foods that are higher in fat, salt, or acid, increase the likelihood of PFAS transferring to the food. In fact, it's suggested that people who eat at home more frequently may have lower blood levels of PFAS than those who eat out frequently and this is thought to be one of the reasons why.
Another concern is that PFAS can be introduced into the environment when used packaging is dumped or burned.
Environmentalists and public health advocates would like to have the use of PFAS banned completely. This is particularly important in food packaging. As a result, several fast food restaurants, fast food takeout chains, and grocery stores have limited or plan to phase out food packaging that contains intentionally added PFAS.
PFAS In Food Packaging
Some companies use PFAS chemicals to manufacture food packaging that as a strong resistance to oils and liquids. For example, the majority of molded fiber takeout containers that are manufactured contains PFAS for this reason.
PFAS are chemicals that are highly abundant, transferable, and toxic. Their production and use, particularly in food packaging and other products, have led to widespread water contamination.
The full scope of the toxic legacy left by PFAS use is still not completely known. Almost every week, there are new discoveries of contamination caused by PFAS in existing communities.
Some PFAS are so resilient that they do not degrade at all in the environment, so their levels will only rise over time with continued use.
There are ways to solve this problem, but we need leaders to implement them. There are many alternatives to packaging with PFAS that are easy to find and comparatively inexpensive. And because people are getting more worried, big food retailers have promised to remove PFAS from their packaging over time.
In fact, many states have already banned PFAS from being used in food packaging, including the California PFAS ban. These bans will soon go into effect. As stores, cities, and states assume the lead, there is more pressure on Congress to act.
The Future of Food Packaging Sans PFAS
Alternative PFAS solutions must be studied to prevent a repeat in the coming decades. If we want to create a permanent solution to this issue, PFAS substitutes should be made of non-toxic materials. This is to be food safe and environmentally beneficial, as well as leave no lasting negative effects at the end-of-life treatment.
Businesses should explore to identify PFAS replacements most suited for their varied uses. Different businesses' chemicals or coatings are often confidential. Due to market competition, many businesses don't fully reveal information.
Paper food containers sold at grocery stores and dining establishments can be verified by an independent agency to be free of intentionally added PFAS. However, they are often unaware of the substitute substances.
Be Careful of Greenwashing
One must be careful of greenwashing in the food packaging industry. Simply put, greenwashing occurs when a company does not tell the truth about reducing its environmental impact.
The most common approach they do is through deceptive marketing and advertising. They may claim that a portion of their goods is made from recycled materials. They may also allege using fewer resources or to obtain materials from ethical vendors when this is not the case.
Operations recognize public support for green, sustainable businesses. It's easy to understand why. A company's competitiveness is often assured by a green sticker placed on product packaging.
Most buyers don't research a company's claims. Often, people trust the brand or business, so they just buy the product. Sustainable futures can be achieved in part by using environmentally friendly items. But companies have greenwashed to take advantage of the green movement.
Watch out for misleading sustainability claims. Buy your eco-friendly containers from certified businesses using fully biodegradable products. Look for the phrase "No added PFAS" when shopping instead of "PFAS-free" since virtually nothing in this world is 100% free of PFAS.
Go Green and Change For a Better Future!
Our planet is littered with billions of tons of PFAS food packaging containers. This chemical pollution is not only harmful to our health but damages all.
If we want to save the earth, the future of disposables has to continue to become more environmentally friendly. Stopping PFAS use in common items like food packaging is the most effective strategy to prevent PFAS contamination of water supplies, wildlife, and human beings.
The first step in the form of a PFAS ban has already been legislated and will come into action on the 31st of December 2022. Retailers, therefore, must find alternative, more environmentally friendly food packaging to follow this new law.