The 9th Food Packaging Forum (FPF) workshop “Different perspectives on food contact materials: Working together to make FCMs safer” took place online on October 6-8, 2021. This article summarizes the presentations given during the workshop on Friday, October 8th. Two additional articles have been published summarizing the presentations from Wednesday and Thursday.
In the first talk of the day, Florian Suter, scientific officer at FPF presented the Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard, a free and easy-to-use web-based tool to assess sustainability impacts of common foodware and food packaging choices. He shortly introduced the multi-stakeholder approach and idea behind the tool before highlighting the six metrics calculated in the UP Scorecard (climate impact, water use, plastic pollution, chemicals of concern, recoverability, sustainable sourcing). He then turned the spotlight on the chemicals of concern metric and briefly explained the applied method, which is a starting point for further developments. Finally, he gave an outlook on potential upgrades within the tool, namely an option for regionalization, options for bringing in additional products and container types, and possible links to other tools. He closed his talk with an announcement that the second beta version of the tool will be released later this October.
Simona Bălan is a senior environmental scientist at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) currently working to implement the state’s Safer Consumer Products (SCP) regulations which includes researching and regulating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in consumer products (FPF reported here and here). In her presentation, Bălan discussed how the DTSC is working to regulate PFAS as a class. DTSC follows a four-step framework to identify and regulate consumer products beginning with that it (i) keeps a “candidate chemicals list” of potentially harmful chemicals as designated by “23 authoritative bodies” which includes all PFAS (as defined by Buck et al.), (ii) prioritize products when they are identified to contain a chemical on the candidate list, (iii) manufacturers of the product are tasked with evaluating alternatives, and (iv) DTSC reviews the alternatives proposed by manufacturers and makes a regulatory response such as banning, requiring labeling or engineering changes, or she explains that “if there are no safer alternatives… we can require manufacturers to put aside some funding; grants for green chemistry research.”
When prioritizing products to review in the second step of the framework, DTSC must demonstrate that there is both potential consumer exposure to a candidate chemical and that “one or more exposures have the potential to contribute to or cause significant or widespread adverse impacts.” The hazard characteristics DTSC found for PFAS were “environmental persistence, mobility in the environment, bioaccumulation, lactational and transplacental transfer,” as well as a wide range of toxicological and environmental hazards (FPF reported). The impacts DTSC considers are broader than direct human toxicity. Products with chlorofluorocarbons, for example, would have been considered a priority because the chemicals destroy the ozone layer. Bălan explained, “they were not toxic, but they did have very significant impact on our health by leading to ozone destruction up in the stratosphere.” And persistence is considered especially important to DTSC since “we don’t know all the potential adverse effects of the class of PFASs but because they’re so persistent these effects that we don’t know about can manifest in the future.” DTSC was in the process of proposing regulation for plant-fiber based food packaging but stopped when California’s Governor signed a regulation that will ban intentionally added PFAS in all food packaging effective January 1, 2023 (FPF reported).
The third presentation of the day was given by Lydia Richter, laboratory manager at Chemical and Veterinary Official Control Laboratory Stuttgart (CVUA), who tests consumer products to see if they live up to their material sustainability claims. “For us as an official control laboratory, always the question is: Is this true?” Her lab analyzes about 2000 food contact materials, textiles, and other consumer products each year. In her presentation, Richter used the example of bamboo tableware that was being marketed with claims like “this cup is made of 100% bamboo and cornstarch and is biodegradable.”
Under EU policy (No. 1935/2004), the labeling and advertising of food contact materials (FCMs) or articles “shall not mislead the consumers.” When CVUA tested bamboo tableware, they found that 30-70% of the products contain melamine resin as a glue to hold the bamboo and cornstarch together. Melamine is a plastic that was not listed as an ingredient and is not biodegradable even in industrial processes. In further migration tests both with acetic acid warmed to 70 degrees Celsius as a food simulant and again with hot lemon drink, CVUA found that melamine increasingly migrated into drinks the more times the takeaway cup was used.
Studies by CVUA, the European Food Safety Authority, and others, determined that plant products such as bamboo, rice straw, and sunflower seed hulls should not automatically be treated as equal to wood products, and the legislation was updated accordingly (FPF reported). Richter argued that some of the key challenges surrounding FCMs are that the technologies are still in an early stage of development, there are unclear definitions for materials like bioplastics (FPF reported), and there is a lack of knowledge passed along the supply chain (FPF reported). “We can see it in our laboratory that there is a lot of fancy advertising, and the product does not [always] meet these advertising [claims],” Richter concluded.
The next presentation introduced recent work by the Minderoo Foundation on plastics and human health. Given by Lisa Hooyer and Sarah Dunlop, who both work in a multidisciplinary team as Engagement and Impact Manager as well as Director Plastics and Human Health, respectively. Hooyer introduced two plastic-related projects, the No Plastic Waste (FPF reported) project and the Plastics & Human Health project. In the second project, the impacts of chemicals and microplastics on human health will be reviewed and summarized, further researched, and publicly communicated. Through a worldwide network and scientific collaboration, the goal is to reduce exposure, design safe and sustainable plastics, and better protect human health through global policy and laws. Dunlop then continued by introducing an additional research project on measuring plastic particles in human tissues and announcing a series of systematic reviews and reports on the health effects of plastic chemicals that will be published soon.
Poonam Arora, Professor and Chair in the Management Department at Manhattan College gave the final presentation of the day. In her research, she explores how individuals’ choices can create economic, environmental, and social sustainability for their communities, organizations, and society. Though she normally works and studies group decision-making around climate change issues, she took the knowledge gleaned from other presenters over the three days of the workshop to tailor her presentation to food packaging concerns.
Arora’s investigations into the game theory of group decision-making have found that “when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring… if you think of that uncertainty… as a threat you want to defend what you have [to the detriment of society as a whole]. But when you think of that opportunity as opening up opportunities for… conversation, innovation, technical advancement… you actually want to cooperate further because you see the benefits that derive from it.” So how can societies encourage this opportunity mindset? According to Arora, it’s in the framing.
When two groups share a task in which the outcome matters to the wellbeing of all, cooperation is greater and there is a prioritization of what the greatest number can benefit from. An icebreaker, for example, doesn’t work to bring groups together, but making a group of students agree on one issue they will write about in a letter to the University leadership will. The trouble Arora sees with many of the large decisions facing society today is that when group identity is a central focus of the discussion, especially coupled with financial or social standing, hate between groups is substantial. “When you put in-groups and out-groups together, have them do a shared task, and then have them come together to cooperate, the cooperation is close to 100%.” Much of the work still needed for society currently is to bring groups from hating one another to being neutral towards one another. “When you share connections, you actually share a reality.”
Bălan, et al. (February 17, 2021). “Regulating PFAS as a Chemical Class under the California Safer Consumer Products Program.” Environmental Health Perspectives DOI: 10.1289/EHP7431