Study reveals ‘forever chemicals’ in disposable food packaging from UK high street retailers
A new investigation released today shows that harmful, persistent chemicals are used in disposable take-away food packaging in the UK.
Over the course of 2020, the Czech environmental NGO Arnika coordinated a study involving eight non-profit organisations, including CHEM Trust, to investigate the presence of PFAS chemicals in disposable food packaging available in six European countries: The Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
CHEM Trust provided multiple paper and cardboard food packaging samples (including cookie bags and pizza boxes) from popular fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Gregg’s, Pret-a-Manger, and Subway, and the high street supermarket Co-op. Three pizza boxes from Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut were also investigated. These samples were analysed by scientists in independent laboratories in Denmark and the Czech Republic.
All the greaseproof bags tested (from the UK) had levels of Total Organic Fluorine content (an accepted proxy for total PFAS content) that indicated the bags had been intentionally treated with PFAS chemicals. The three pizza cardboard boxes had lower levels of Total Organic Fluorine content that indicated background contamination with PFAS chemicals, rather than intentional use. This contamination could be related to cross contamination during the manufacturing of the boxes and/or the presence of PFAS in contaminated recycled cardboard.
PFAS are a large family of over 4,500 synthetic chemicals, which are known as the “Forever Chemicals” due to their extreme persistence in the environment. They are used in a wide variety of consumer products and industrial applications, including food packaging.
Studies have shown that some PFAS can migrate from packaging into food, adding to the overall PFAS exposure of the general population. Scientific studies have associated exposure to several PFAS with a number of adverse health effects, including cancer, reduced response to vaccinations, and impacts on the immune, reproductive and hormone systems.
CHEM Trust is calling on the UK government to phase out all unnecessary uses of PFAS, including in food packaging, and to restrict these substances as a group. It is the only way to:
- Prevent emissions of all PFAS chemicals.
- Stop the accumulation of these highly persistent chemicals in the environment and our bodies.
- Protect UK citizens and wildlife from exposure to these harmful substances.
Read more about the UK results.
To find out more about the European-wide results, read our latest policy blog.
Help us take action on hazardous chemicals in food packaging.
To learn more about PFAS:
Read our PFAS in food packaging FAQ