In an article published on March 25, 2019 by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in its EDF+Business blog, Boma Brown-West and colleagues from EDF introduced a list of key “toxic chemicals [that] can enter food through packaging,” which they have compiled based on available knowledge and experience.
The authors remind that as early as in the 1980s, the U.S. Council of Northeast Governors (CONEG) started drafting a legislation to prohibit the intentional use of certain heavy metals in packaging manufacture, justified by the following argument: “[P]rotecting virgin material from contamination will improve the recyclability of post-consumer materials and protect public health.” Variations of this model legislation have since been adopted by 19 U.S. States. Then, in 2018, U.S. State of Washington “took an unprecedented step of expanding its version of the legislation from heavy metals to include per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS)” (FPF reported), because of concerns related to contamination of composting and recycling processes through packaging paper containing these chemicals.
However, beyond heavy metals and PFAS, there are many “other chemicals in food packaging and food handling equipment, whose ubiquity and potential health impacts raise serious concerns about food safety and contamination of the recycling stream,” EDF scientists stress. To provide an overview of such chemicals, they compiled a list of the “key chemicals of concern” that now includes:
Intentionally added ingredients such as ortho-phthalates, perchlorate (CAS 14797-73-0), PFAS, and benzophenone (CAS 119-61-9);
residual processing aids including ethyl glycol (CAS 110-80-5), methyl glycol (CAS 109-86-4), toluene (CAS 108-88-3), and N-methyl-pyrrolidone (NMP, CAS 872-50-4);
bisphenols, including bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7) and related compounds such as bisphenol B (BPB, CAS 77-40-7), bisphenol F (BPF, CAS 620-92-8), and bisphenol S (BPS, CAS 80-09-1) ;
contaminants, including lead (CAS 7349-92-1), arsenic (CAS 7440-38-2), cadmium (CAS 7440-43-9), hexavalent chromium (CAS 18540-29-9), and mercury (CAS 7439-97-6).
Some of these chemicals have already been “recommended for minimization or phase out” in a document on best practices in food packaging released by the industry association Food Safety Alliance for Packaging in 2018 (FPF reported).
EDF points out that “by ensuring future food packaging is free of these chemicals, companies can improve consumer trust while minimizing the impact of future regulations on their bottom line.” Keeping these chemicals out of virgin materials is also crucial for successful recycling. Therefore, “any company looking to create sustainable recycling markets for food packaging, particularly those companies developing strategies to meet the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment [(FPF reported)], must set tight virgin-material standards to prevent problematic contamination in post-consumer recycled materials.”
Brown-West, B., et al. (March 25, 2019). “Toxic chemicals can enter food through packaging. We made a list.” EDF+Business
EDF (March 25, 2019). “Key chemicals of concern in food packaging and food handling equipment.” EDF+Business