Companies are beginning to feel the effects of PFAS regulations as states including California, New York and Maine kicked off 2023 with bans on PFAS food packaging laws. PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” have been linked to health and environmental issues but continue to be detected in consumer products including food packaging, as they are extremely difficult to eliminate.
Manufacturers are now facing major challenges as they are forced to shift production plans and identify sustainable, chemical-free packaging that still delivers on performance. The properties found in PFAS allow the chemical to provide grease-resistant packaging, a vital standard that food companies are not willing to sacrifice across fast-food packaging and restaurant take-out containers, to microwave popcorn bags and pet food bags.
On the bright side, sustainable packaging alternatives are becoming increasingly accessible for companies looking to make the switch. These solutions are relatively new, meaning not all have the impact performance that manufacturers are seeking, but there are technologies and chemistries emerging to combine performance and PFAS-free packaging needs of the CPG industry.
What's Driving CPG to Seek PFAS-Alternatives in Packaging?
PFAS have existed since the 1940’s, and have recently made news headlines as reports showcase the dangers they pose. They are carbon-based chemical compounds containing a highly toxic molecule called Fluorine that can potentially lead to various medical issues including certain cancers, high cholesterol levels, fertility issues, and more.
The “forever chemicals” caught public attention when detected in drinking water, but overtime they’ve turned up in industries ranging from paper & cardboard, textiles, automotives, construction and healthcare. More specifically, they are found in products that repel water, oil and grease. The pressure is on as environmental groups, government organizations, etc., look to these companies to address PFAS contamination in products.
Emerging Technologies Meet Package Performance
With new innovative technologies, companies are designing PFAS-free coatings that add water-repellency, oil and grease resistance, or low moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR) properties to food packaging products including perishable and frozen foods and fast food service applications. It’s important that these coatings withstand different conditions including extreme weather, while maintaining stability throughout all stages of use.
In the process of identifying PFAS-free alternatives, it’s essential for these solutions to meet additional health and environmental safety standards by integrating ingredients deemed safe by organizations including the EPA. One of the main issues with PFAS is that the chemical has been found in human blood due to its presence in everyday items. For companies providing PFAS-free alternatives, there are testing methods that must be followed in order to ensure no dangerous formulas come in contact with humans, and there is no potential for harmful ingredients to be found in these coatings.
As manufacturers begin to phase out PFAS, decision makers should begin educating themselves on alternative options, and contacting companies that are taking steps to create highly functional coating solutions.
Shifting a brand or restaurant’s packaging processes won’t be without its challenges. There will be obstacles in identifying the best formulations for the needs of the business, but new technologies are making significant advancements leaning on natural properties.
Proven performance, timelines for production, and driving consumer awareness on the transition of packaging will be priority agenda items for CPG executives throughout the year. The brands who prioritize the switch will be industry leaders rising to the demands and needs of their customers.
David Zamarin is a serial entrepreneur, thrill-seeker and proud founder of DetraPel.