Environmental Organizations: Harmful Substances in Packaging

Several environmental organizations have studied disposable tableware and paper bags and are calling for consequences based on the results.

Whether burger box, French fry bag or compostable soup bowl: food packaging treated with harmful fluorochemicals can be found in European fast-food restaurants. This is shown by a joint series of tests conducted by the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) in collaboration with the Czech consumer protection organizations “Arnika” and seven other non-governmental organizations. “The results are highly alarming. Fluorochemicals are harmful to the environment, potentially hazardous to health and have no place in food packaging,” criticized Olaf Bandt, BUND chairman. Of a total of 42 samples analyzed, 32 were clearly treated with these extremely persistent per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), it says. According to BUND, these included disposable packaging from well-known chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Nordsee, Subway and Dunkin Donuts.

Due to their grease- and water-repellent properties, PFAS are mainly used in coatings, for example on disposable tableware made of paper and cardboard. Some of the substances identified are of concern from a health perspective: they have been shown to transfer to packaged foods and have been linked to increased cancer risk, liver and reproductive damage, as well as endocrine disruption.

Bandt: “These substances can make people ill, yet they are unnecessary. They urgently need to be banned in food packaging. Alternative untreated disposable and, above all, reusable packaging has long been ready for the market. More and more companies are introducing them. Denmark has led the way with its 2020 national ban on fluorochemicals, showing that it can be done without.”

Legal measures have accelerated the switch to alternatives in Denmark. Test results also prove this: French fry bags from Denmark were not treated with PFAS, unlike those from the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.

“In view of the considerable risks, we are calling for a ban on PFASs as an entire group of substances by 2030 at the latest. Germany and the European Union must also step up their efforts to ban these fluorochemicals worldwide under the Stockholm Convention.”

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