• UK supermarkets to phase out Forever Chemicals, PFAS, from food packaging
    Bakery and cookie bags tested found to contain PFAS © Fidra
  • How PFAS spread and accumulate in the environment © Fidra

Environmental Laboratory

UK supermarkets to phase out Forever Chemicals, PFAS, from food packaging

Jun 01 2021

New details published by environmental charity, Fidra, show 5 out of 10 major UK supermarkets are taking voluntary action to reduce or remove PFAS from own brand food packaging, 2 aiming to be PFAS-free by the end of 2021.

Environmental charity, Fidra, have been calling for the removal of PFAS, chemicals of health  and environmental concern, since testing revealedwidespread use in UK food packaging . In February 2021, Fidra delivered almost 12,000 signatures to the CEO’s of Aldi, ASDA, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, urging action to remove these highly persistent chemicals from food packaging.

New details published on Fidra’s PFAS free website show 5 out of the 10 supermarkets approached are now actively working with suppliers to reduce PFAS use, with both Morrisons and Marks and Spencer aiming to remove PFAS from own brand food packaging by the end of 2021, and Icelandalready free of PFAS across all own brand products.

PFAS have many different uses, including providing water and grease repellency to paper, board and compostable food packaging. With the food sector heavily focused on moving away from single-use plastic, the market share of these alternative forms of packaging is likely to increase dramatically. Fidra have been working with UK supermarkets to ensure the benefits of plastic reduction are not undermined by an increase in harmful and persistent environmental pollutants, PFAS.

PFAS (Per and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances) are a group of highly persistent industrial chemicals, associated with a wide range of health and environmental issues, from cancer in humans to neurological problems in animals There is also mounting scientific evidence linking PFAS exposure to immune system suppression, reduced vaccine efficacy, and an increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.

PFAS are known as the ‘forever chemicals’ because some are known to take over 1,000 years to breakdown. As such, almost all the PFAS ever produced are still in our environment today, and concentrations are growing. PFAS are in air, oceans, soil and wildlife, all across the globe. They are building to dangerous levels in European drinking waters, can be taken up by crops, and are contaminating our food chains. 99% of people tested have been found to have PFAS in their blood, with intake levels for infants and young children approximately double that of adults. Babies are now born with PFAS already in their bodies.

Once in the environment, no effective method of wide-scale remediation exists. To prevent pollution, PFAS production must be stopped at source. The EU have already committed to ban all PFAS across all sectors, unless their use is considered essential to society.

Denmark implemented a ban on PFAS in food packaging in July 2020. Global food companies such as McDonalds and Nestle are working towards targets to remove all  PFAS from their food packaging.

As well as supporting voluntary measures from retailers to phase out PFAS, Fidra are also    calling for UK legislation to prevent this ongoing source of harmful pollution. Fidra believe that immediate and voluntary initiatives such as those demonstrated by UK supermarkets are an essential first step tolasting change.

Fidra are now calling for - food retailers across the UK to follow these examples and commit to phasing out all PFAS from food packaging within a clear and ambitioustimeline, the UK Government to ban the use of all PFAS in food packaging by 2022; and the UK Government to include a commitment and timeline to phase PFAS out of all non-essential uses within the upcoming UK ChemicalsStrategy.

Dr Kerry Dinsmore of Fidra said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to see so many of the leading UK supermarkets listening to their customers and taking proactive measures on this important environmental issue. This clearly demonstrates that alternatives to PFAS exist and makes a strong case for UK-wide legislation to ensure these changes are replicated across the whole food sector. PFAS must have no place in the future of sustainable food packaging, and these recent actions are a brilliant first step towards this goal.”

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