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Most consumers unaware of health risks posed by “forever chemicals” in food packaging, researchers warn

#Most consumers unaware of health risks posed by “forever chemicals” in food packaging, researchers warn

25 Mar 2024 — The majority (80%) of consumers are not familiar with “forever chemicals” and the term PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), according to a survey by Sapio Research, conducted on behalf of Celebration Packaging.

However, when asked about the potential dangers of PFAS after being shown the definition, 96% of participants indicated that they are now concerned about its potential dangers.

Man-made “forever chemicals” called PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals used across a wide variety of common applications, usually as a grease repellant in fast food packaging and non-stick cookware to fire fighting foams and stain repellent chemicals for clothing and carpets.

PFAS are synthetic and do not naturally degrade, which means they can end up contaminating groundwater for a very long time after their release into the environment.

“Our survey has found that the vast majority of consumers (80%) are not familiar with forever chemicals and the term PFAS,” says Celebration Packaging managing director Nick Burton.

“However, when informed about PFAS, some 96% of respondents stated that they were concerned about the potential dangers forever chemicals pose.”

PFAS do not degrade and can end up contaminating groundwater for a long time after their release into the environment.


This research follows recent research conducted by scientists at the Food Packaging Forum Foundation, which flagged that most of PFAS used in F&B packaging is “unregulated and untested for health hazards.”

Public concerns mounting
Research is ongoing to assess the risk to humans from a build-up of PFAS in the human body, informs Sapio Research. There are concerns that a large amount of PFAS could accumulate in the blood and cause cancers and infertility, particularly for residents in very badly polluted areas.

“The survey also found that 96% of consumers indicated that it was important that their packaging was certified PFA-free,” Burton highlights. “As only 31% were not prepared to pay extra for such packaging, there is every reason for food service outlets to use certified packaging from reputable suppliers.”

Burger inside a takeout boxPFAS is commonly used as a grease repellant in fast food packaging.Public concerns around PFAS have been heightening over the last decade. Denmark banned PFAS nearly two years ago while 12 US states have also announced restrictions.

Additionally, following a six-month consultation period, the European Chemicals Agency is developing a plan to reduce PFAS emissions into the environment and make products and processes safer for people.

PFAS-free foodservice solutions
Burton details that Celebration Packaging became aware of the PFAS issue “some time ago” and began to look for viable non-PFAS packaging in early 2022.

“Since then, we have been working hard to ensure that we can deliver PFAS-free packaging solutions for the takeaway, delivery and QSR sectors — and we are delighted to confirm that all our white bagasse clamshells, dinnerware and chip trays are now TÜV home compostable and that they are certified PFAS-free.”

To ensure that Celebration Packaging’s bagasse fiber clamshells, chip trays and dinnerware are free from forever chemicals, Sapio Research arranged for international testing, inspection and certification agency SGS to test these products.

The SGS test report indicates that no PFAS and similar chemicals such as perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, perfluorooctanoic acid or perfluorohexanesulphonic acid were detected.

“Celebration Packaging has always invested in accreditations and certifications which we take very seriously, so that when we make environmental and sustainability claims, we can always back them up,” says Burton.

White bagasse packaging solutions
Burton believes PFAS-free white bagasse products are the “best alternative” to foodservice packaging made from expanded polystyrene. “They are the perfect replacement for expanded polystyrene plates, trays and clamshells now that the SUP (single-use plastic) legislation has come into effect.”

“Bagasse is a great material because it is natural and renewable, using waste fibers from agriculture that would otherwise be discarded,” he continues. “The manufacture of bagasse fiber packaging also has a lower carbon footprint than its oil-based comparable products, but to make bagasse water and grease resistant, PFAS were traditionally added.”

“Our extensive 12 month in-market trials show that this is no longer necessary.”

Salad in a takeout boxDenmark banned PFAS nearly two years ago while 12 US states have also announced restrictions.Additionally, the new PFAS-free white bagasse fiber packaging is made to look “exactly the same” as the previous range and can be used in a microwave to reheat food.”

“As a consultative business, we recommend that they talk to us if they have any concerns about the environmental impact of the packaging they use,” says Burton. “We have been providing sustainable packaging solutions for many years and in the face of bans and taxes, we can help customers move away from single-use plastics and reduce their carbon footprint.”

“As publicity around the PFAS issue builds, so will concerns from consumers, so foodservice operators should check if the packaging they are using is PFAS-free.”

Eying an endemic issue
PFAS remains a key talking point among policymakers in the EU, as moves have been made to revise the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation agreement. The agreement, pending formal adoption by both institutions, was revamped to include requirements to ensure that packaging on the Single Market is recyclable and free from PFAS.

The prevalence of forever chemicals was further emphasized by a European Pesticides Action Network study uncovering a “spike” in the detection of these compounds in fruit and vegetables.

In other recent foodservice packaging innovation, Eco-Products launched PFAS-free compostable French fry paper bags, cutlery bags and sandwich wraps as part of its GreenStripe line.

By Benjamin Ferrer

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