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Food for Thought
June 2021
Welcome to 'Food for Thought', a newsletter sharing key updates on food contact material (FCM) policy, ideas for revised FCM legislation and useful resources. There are thousands of chemicals in food contact materials that can potentially migrate into our food or drink, and many of these chemicals can harm our health and pollute the environment. This is why we need more protective regulation.

Recent studies have highlighted the presence of harmful chemicals, particularly PFAS, in food packaging and tableware across Europe, and emphasise the urgent need to restrict such chemicals in FCMs. The studies also highlight the importance of ensuring that alternatives to single-use plastic food packaging not only prevent waste, but also are free from harmful chemicals.

Tests find widespread use of PFAS in food packaging across Europe

A new study from 8 civil society organisations (including CHEM Trust and the Health and Environment Alliance) shows the widespread use of and contamination by PFAS, 'the forever chemicals', in disposable food packaging from popular fast-food chains, takeaway restaurants and supermarkets across Europe. PFAS are extremely persistent and can accumulate in the environment. They have been linked to negative health impacts in both people and wildlife.

All 42 items tested had measurable levels of PFAS chemicals, including 32 samples that had been intentionally treated with PFAS. The presence of PFAS in all items highlights the pervasive contamination of the food packaging production and supply chain with these chemicals. The highest PFAS concentrations were consistently found in items advertised as biodegradable or compostable disposable products.

The results also show that where regulation has been put in place, such as in the case of Denmark, it has effectively incentivised companies to move away from using PFAS compounds.

The report calls for a broad restriction of all PFAS chemicals in non-essential uses, including disposable food packaging and tableware.

Read the full report including policy recommendations: 'Throwaway Packaging, Forever Chemicals: European wide survey of PFAS in disposable food packaging and tableware'.

Read blogs on the study from CHEM Trust and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Tests find unwanted chemicals in plastic alternatives

New tests undertaken by consumer organisations in four EU countries have found a range of harmful chemicals in single-use tableware made of popular non-plastic alternatives, including disposable plant fibre bowls, paper straws, and palm leaf plates.

53% of the samples tested contained unwanted chemicals above recommended levels, including PFAS and other harmful chemicals such as chloropropanols, and pesticides. Some of the samples claimed to be compostable or biodegradable, however the presence of the highly persistent PFAS contradicts this claim.

Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, commented:

"The fact that many plastic alternatives are loaded with 'forever' chemicals sadly shows that one persistent pollutant is being replaced with another. The results we publish today prove that current EU food packaging rules fail consumers. It is high time the EU gets its act together and comes up with strict food packaging rules that both protect consumers and the environment."

Read the full report: 'Towards safe and sustainable food packaging: European consumer organisations call for action on single-use tableware made of alternatives to plastic'.

New materials highlight health impacts of PFAS

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) have developed joint materials to help health professionals take action and contribute to advocacy and awareness-raising on PFAS.

The materials include:

  • An infographic on the problems with PFAS, including health impacts, that is available in EnglishDutchFrenchSpanish and German.
  • fact sheet, outlining exactly how PFAS chemicals affect women, pregnancy and human development, also in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC).
These new materials support a new statement from the FIGO Committee on Reproductive and Development Environmental Health, setting out the health concerns associated with PFAS exposure and calling for its removal.

With this statement, FIGO underlines that "global health should be our guiding light. We recommend that PFAS exposure to populations should end with a full global phase out". 
More information on PFAS
PFAS are not only a problem in FCMs, but also in other uses such as cosmetics, cookware and textiles. More information about the evidence building up against PFAS, recent developments, and actions to support the call for phase out of this particularly harmful group of chemicals can be found below:
Last minute policy news

During an event on 15th June Claire Bury, Deputy Director General at DG SANTE said that the European Commission is now planning to propose its revision of the FCM legislation in early 2023, rather than at the end of 2022.

Ms Bury highlighted, however, that the European Commission is committed to ensure that the legislation can be adopted by the end of the current mandate (Spring 2024).

This newsletter is produced by a collaboration between CHEM Trust, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Zero Waste Europe (ZWE). Together, we are working towards creating a toxic-free environment where nobody should have to worry about the presence of health-harming chemicals in the products that come into contact with our food.

CHEM Trust is a charity based in Germany and the UK, with the overarching aim to prevent synthetic chemicals from causing long term damage to wildlife or humans, by ensuring that chemicals which cause such harm are substituted with safer alternatives. (EU Transparency number: 27053044762-72)

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is the leading not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects human health in the European Union (EU) and beyond. HEAL works to shape laws and policies that promote planetary and human health and protect those most affected by pollution, and raise awareness on the benefits of environmental action for health. (EU Transparency number: 00723343929-96)

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) is the European network of communities, local leaders, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society. We advocate for sustainable systems and the redesign of our relationship with resources, to accelerate a just transition towards zero waste for the benefit of people and the planet. (EU Transparency number: 47806848200-34)
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