In September 2020, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report investigating the commercial availability and current uses of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and non-fluorinated alternatives in food packaging. Developed with the support of government, industry, academic, and civil society stakeholder members of the organization’s Global Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC) Group, it provides information on the availability of the substances for use in food packaging, market trends, and policy recommendations.
The report finds that both short-chain (SC) PFAS and non-fluorinated alternatives “are available on the global market and can be used to produce paper and board for use in food packaging.” Based on information from US government sources, it identifies 28 fluorinated substances used across 19 formulations to create paper and board food packaging. Information from German authorities found 12 fluorinated substances designated for use in surface or coating agents.
Overall, both short-chain PFAS and non-fluorinated alternatives are shown to “meet the high grease and water repellence specifications required for the common food and pet food packaging uses.” In the report, it is also stated that “for some applications, non-fluorinated alternatives have a performance advantage over SC PFAS.” An analysis of the current market revealed that non-fluorinated alternatives make up about 1% or less of the market share, and it attributes this limited use to the higher cost of non-fluorinated alternatives. Food packaging made from non-fluorinated alternatives were found to be 11 to 32% more expensive than packaging made with SC PFAS.
While the OECD identified that some technical challenges exist in transitioning from fluorinated to non-fluorinated alternatives, it concludes that “the main obstacle to substitution” is the increased cost. However, “if there are sufficiently strong reasons for the value chain to pay for the premium non-fluorinated alternatives, it will do so.” With an increase in retailer initiatives to switch to non-fluorinated alternatives (FPF reported), as well as a growing number of regulatory restrictions on PFAS in food packaging such as those in Denmark (FPF reported) and the US states of Washington (FPF reported) and New York (FPF reported), there soon may be reason enough for the value chain to switch to non-fluorinated alternatives.
In a set of concluding recommendations, the report encourages governments to “further disseminate information on the potential health and environmental risks of PFAS and non-PFAS alternatives” and to “consider funding research into non-PFAS alternatives, including an understanding of their functionality, costs and potential health and environmental risks.” To industry stakeholders, it recommends to “evaluate options to increase the transparency of the food packaging industry and its use of PFAS/non-PFAS alternatives.” This includes “making scientifically robust information available publicly on intentionally used PFAS and non-fluorinated alternatives in food packaging.”
OECD (September 2020). “PFASs and alternatives in food packaging (paper and paperboard): Report on the commercial availability and current uses.” (pdf)
Pat Rizzuto (September 25, 2020). “PFAS in Food Packaging Driven by Costs of Substitutes, OECD Says.” Bloomberg Law
Chemical Watch (October 1, 2020). “Cost is main driver of continued PFAS paper packaging use, OECD study finds.”