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Celebration Packaging MD says beware of ‘forever chemicals’

4th Jun 2024 - 04:00
Catering buyers should avoid the risks posed by ‘forever chemicals’ by choosing certified PFAS-free food packaging, argues Celebration Packaging managing director Nick Burton.

What exactly is the PFAS problem? Well, man-made ‘per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances’ (PFAS) are a group of synthetic, fluorine-based chemicals used in a wide variety of common applications, including fast food packaging.

They do not exist in nature and do not naturally degrade, hence they are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’. While currently categorised as safe for food contact, they can eventually contaminate groundwater following their release into the environment and research is ongoing to assess the health risks from a build-up of PFAS in the human body.

There are concerns that in very badly polluted areas, a large amount of PFAS could accumulate in the blood and could cause cancers and infertility. Just last year the BBC reported experts warning that stricter limits are needed on levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in UK drinking water, adding that in high doses PFAS have been linked to health concerns including cancer.

Denmark banned PFAS nearly two years ago and in the US, 12 states have also announced bans. In addition, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is developing a plan to reduce PFAS emissions into the environment and make products and processes safer for people.

However, a recent survey by Sapio Research, conducted on our behalf found the vast majority (80%) of consumers are not familiar with ‘forever chemicals’, and the term PFAS.

However, when the issues were explained 96% of respondents then stated they were concerned and indicated it was important that packaging was certified PFA-free.

At Celebration we became aware of the PFAS issue a few years ago, because we sell a lot of bagasse products – which have traditionally been made leak-proof through the addition of PFAS chemicals.

At our request, our supplier started experimenting with different production methods. It took quite a long time to find something that was PFAS-free and also delivered the same functionality for water and grease-resistance.

But we were able to start supplying PFAS-free bagasse products about a year ago. To ensure that our bagasse fibre clamshells, chip trays and dinnerware are free from these forever chemicals, we arranged for SGS, an internationally renowned testing, inspection and certification company, to test them.

We believe 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 fibres from agriculture that would otherwise be discarded. The manufacture of bagasse fibre packaging also has a lower carbon footprint than its oil based comparable products. It looks exactly like the old range and can be used in a microwave to reheat food.

End-user customers are becoming better informed and expect caterers to operate more sustainably. With single-use plastic items banned, operators need to source alternatives, and ensure that they are choosing truly sustainable products that are clearly certified as being recyclable and or compostable. Doing so improves your credentials and gives customers confidence in their brand.

We have always believed that when sourcing sustainable packaging, the provenance of the raw materials is paramount – but ensuring that it can be properly disposed of at its end-of-life is equally important.

As publicity around the PFAS issue builds, so will concerns from consumers, so it makes sense for public sector caterers to make sure the packaging they use is PFAS-free.

Written by
Edward Waddell