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 Thursday, October 7th. Two additional articles have been published summarizing the presentations from Wednesday and Friday.
The second day of the workshop was opened by Leontien Hasselman, CEO of SIM Supply Chain Information Management (SIM). Hasselman and others at SIM are hired by food retailers to map the complex web of their private label and fresh product supply chains. Once they know where a product comes from, SIM can work with retailers to find or verify product specifications like allergens, certifications, and nutritional value. In addition to tracing ingredients, Hasselman said, “in the recent 2-3 years we have increased the amount of data we collect on packaging.” Many retailers in the Netherlands, where SIM is based, are signatories of the Dutch Plastics Pact, a voluntary agreement to reduce plastic use (FPF reported). Hasselman explained that many of the decisions about packaging may happen further up in the supply chain before reaching the major retailer. “A lot of the data is very deep within the supply chain so also if you want to change packaging you need to know all of the previous steps within the supply chain in order to proactively be able to act.”
Once all the supply chain data is in one place, buyers can begin to compare the packaging offered by different suppliers, look at which product categories are improving towards set packaging goals the fastest, and product specification information can travel between producers and retailers more easily. Hasselman shared that “it helped the buyers… to also make changes in packaging part of the discussion, and that actually led often to cooperation with strategic suppliers on reaching [sustainable packaging] targets.” She concluded that “up until now a focus has always been on the product innovation, on taste, or on the product, but we actually see that a lot of the innovation projects are… happening in the packaging area.”
Jody Villecco, principal quality standards advisor for Whole Foods Market, continued the discussion on retailer supply chain management by reviewing how Whole Foods assesses packaging safety. Since its inception, the American grocery chain has regularly updated its food quality standards, and Villecco stated that “over the past three years we’ve started to develop packaging quality standards.” In her presentation, she used PFAS as a case study. Villecco explained that when Whole Foods first learned of the potential harm PFAS can cause after the publication of the 2018 Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families study (FPF reported), the company pulled PFAS-containing packaging from its stores, but finding a replacement was not a quick switch. Villecco sums up the complications of trying to balance environmental and human health concerns in complicated supply chains by stating, “in 2018 we thought we were doing the right thing by offering these supposedly sustainable packaging in our stores. They were made from renewable plant materials; they were certified cradle-to-cradle… so even we were surprised to find the packaging had PFAS in it.”
The company introduced a PFAS-free replacement two years later and “the momentum that we’ve received from the work on PFAS has really led to a more expansive work on packaging in general.” The company is now developing a restricted substances list that includes chemical safety, and environmental impacts by banning PFAS, ortho-phthalates, bisphenols, and other chemicals in addition to non-recyclable materials such as polystyrene (PS) and polyvinylchloride (PVC). Whole Foods is currently collecting and assessing supplier surveys but afterward plans to make their final restricted substances list public.
In the presentation “One bin to rule them all,” Mike Shaver, professor of polymer science in the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Manchester, shared his perspective on plastic recycling. He addressed the complexity of plastics and that it is difficult to understand for both consumers as well as for different professional stakeholders. Therefore, the potential fate of plastic packaging might change based on both its material properties as well as how society chooses to address it. He emphasized that especially recycling will only work if it is driven by practice. Shaver addressed labeling practices that may mislead the consumer and can, for example, result in improper disposal. To avoid this, he recommended that plastic should not be labeled as recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable, if it will not actually be recycled, composted, or biodegraded. In the second part of his talk, Shaver focused on the sustainable aspects of plastic, pointed out plastics’ high societal value and proposed to treat it as a resource instead of waste. However, due to the diversity, the current system requires optimization. The project “One bin to rule them all” is aiming at improving the fate of plastics by improving the sorting and tagging of plastics and better understanding the fates and impacts biodegradable plastics could have.
Jonathan Briggs, policy officer at the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) at the EC, closed Thursday’s workshop session by reviewing legislation controlling food contact materials within the EU and the ongoing evaluation and revisions of those regulations (FPF reported, also here and here). FCM legislation in the EU has two objectives “first, is providing for a high-level protection of human health, and secondly, to ensure the effective functioning of the internal union market.” Briggs explained that in EU legislation FCMs include packaging, kitchenware, and tableware, but also food processing equipment and other articles that may come into contact with food such as napkins. Briggs and others at DG SANTE are currently revising the FCM legislation as announced in the Farm to Fork strategy in May 2020 (FPF reported), working closely with their peers at DG Environment as they implement related initiatives such as the Circular Economy Action Plan (FPF reported) and the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (FPF reported also here). Briggs highlighted seven key problems the EC has identified in the Inception Impact Assessment about food contact materials (FPF reported) including some of the supply chain problems mentioned by earlier speakers. He stated, “a big one I think is the availability of information in the supply chain to ensure that exchange of information and transparency to ensure compliance.”
“We want to prioritize the substances [being assessed for FCMs]… At the moment we don’t have a system for doing this… we need to think about all of the substances coming from food contact, not just the ones that are intentionally used.” He explained that there will be a 12-week public consultation “probably early next year… where we’ll be asking for more information and to develop ideas [for FCM policy] even more.” Briggs stressed that DG Sante relies “on the expertise of those of you online [watching this] and [other] stakeholders, so we will have group interviews, surveys, and possibly workshops” to learn the information necessary to build robust FCM policy.
Mike Shaver (October 7, 2021). “One bin to rule them all: A look into plastic recycling.” YouTube.
Whole Foods Market (September 2021). “Our Commitment to Reducing Single-Use Plastics.”
Science and Engineering at Manchester (January 29, 2021) “One Bin to Rule Them All.” YouTube
Burgess et al. (January 2021). “The future of UK plastics recycling: One Bin to Rule Them All.” Resources, Conservation, and Recycling. DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.105191