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Hazardous Chemicals In Food Packaging: What’s the Deal?

Estimates show that almost 90% of chemicals listed on California’s Proposition 65 marked as potentially hazardous to human health and the environment are used in the petroleum-based plastics industry. Say what, right? Traditionally, these chemicals have been used to make plastics stretchier, more heat resistant and more durable. But at what cost?

It’s important to note that all plastics leach, meaning they release some of their molecules as they age and when they’re heated, amongst other things. That means all the ingredients that went into making that plastic—in most cases, petroleum—but also potential chemicals of concern that are used to enhance performance. We’re not just talking about making your food taste weird—some of these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders, and more.

So what kind of chemicals are we talking about exactly? Take PFAS for example. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been manufactured since the 1940s for use in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, grease-repellent take-out containers, and a variety of other applications. PFAS don’t break down once they’re created, meaning they stick around in our bodies and environment, and there’s evidence that they can cause reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological effects. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lists a range of health effects linked to PFA exposure including decreased fertility and an increased risk of cancer.

PFAs aren’t the only nasty chemicals out there. BPA and phthalates are found in many petroleum-based plastics, and concerns about the potential negative impacts of these substances has consistently been raised over the years. Even the Government of Canada has taken action and banned the sale of baby bottles with BPA in them. Arguably one of the worst materials for human health, which is still mainstream in the packaging world today, is polystyrene (which gets turned into Styrofoam), with many independent studies linking polystyrene exposure to various types of cancer.

We shouldn’t assume petroleum-based plastics have to take all the heat though. The issue goes beyond that. Plastic alternatives such as paper and cardboard aren’t always better. They are often coated with leak resistant linings and can contain dyes and glues with all sorts of hidden ingredients that may be detrimental to human health and the environment. This past December, an independent study from three environmental groups found these chemicals in a number national grocery chains’ food packaging. Yikes!

New Plastics Economy, a leading global thinktank focused on rethinking and redesigning the future of plastics, has consistently published concerns of the potential negative impacts of substances such as phthalates and BPA (The New Plastics Economy, Catalysing Action, 2017). It is not just thinktanks and NGOs working in the plastics space who are raising these concerns. As a result of a State University of New York study that found microplastics in over 90% of bottled water, the World Health Organization announced it will be conducting its own review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.

The long and short of it is that these chemicals of concern are everywhere! That’s why we’ve set a goal to get these nasty chemicals out of our kitchens. Whether it be in our plant-based packaging or our kitchen compost collectors, you won’t find any BPAs, PFAs or other hazardous chemicals in our products. We’re committed to the principles of Green Chemistry to do no harm and are proof that everyday items can be produced responsibly and ethically without all this nasty stuff.

To learn more about our commitment and all the things you won’t find in our packaging, take a look at our chemicals of concern page, or drop us a line.

To check out our full range of plant-based food packaging options, click here.