On May 21, 2021, a coalition of European civil society organizations announced the release of a report finding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) present in a range of food packaging articles collected from major international fast food chain restaurants. The study collected 99 samples from takeaway restaurants, supermarkets, and online shops in six European countries (the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom). 42 of the samples were sent for closer analysis, and 32 showed evidence of intentional treatment with PFAS based on total organic fluorine levels. The report provides a full set of analysis results for all samples, and variation was found across countries. For example, none of the McDonald’s french fries paper bags bought in Denmark had signs of PFAS treatment, whereas this same item, when sampled in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, did. As Denmark legally restricted the use of PFAS in paper packaging starting in July 2020 (FPF reported), the authors see the results of their analysis as a clear sign “that legislation can and does protect people from exposure to harmful chemicals.”

“When Europe’s stated objective is zero pollution for a non-toxic environment, we cannot accept that food packaging disposed of within a matter of minutes is treated with chemicals that persist and accumulate in the environment and are increasingly being associated with severe health impacts. The large European PFAS restriction under development [(FPF reported)] is a once-in-a-century opportunity to address such uses and work towards phasing out the production and uses of PFAS, wherever they are unnecessary and it is possible,” commented Natacha Cingotti from Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a member of the coalition authoring the report.

Multiple international restaurants and other organizations have begun moving away from the use of PFAS altogether (FPF reported here and here) while local governments and national health organizations are also beginning to strengthen regulations around the highly persistent substances (FPF reported here and here). For more information on restaurant, food brand, and retailer packaging initiatives and commitments related to PFAS and other chemicals, see the Food Packaging Forum’s brand and retailer database.

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Arnika (May 19, 2021). “‘Forever chemicals’ widespread in disposable food packaging from popular fast-food chains across Europe, new study shows.”

Arnika (May 19, 2021). “Throwaway Packaging, Forever Chemicals: European wide survey of PFAS in disposable food packaging and tableware.”