Navigating PFAS Packaging Regulations in the US
Fri Mar 15 2024

Navigating PFAS Packaging Regulations in the US

For many, October is the “let’s-scare-people-out-of-their-minds” month. And, typically, it’s not visible things that most frighten us; it's the things we cannot see.

Some chemicals that have been in the news a lot lately are PFAS, which stands for Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances. They are potentially harmful and invisible to the naked eye. PFAS are chemicals used to make coatings that protect against heat, oil, stains, grease, and water for products in an array of industries. A number of industries have used PFAS since the early 1940s.

Companies commonly use PFAS in paper food packaging because they repel grease and prevent oil from leaking. For example, Manufacturers use PFAS in microwave popcorn bags to protect them from grease, oil, heat, and other elements.

PFAS, like other synthetic polymers, do not break down naturally. They can harm the environment and health by entering soil, water, and animals. Due to their durability and barrier properties, the group of chemicals (1000+) are widespread throughout our products and industries, yet many states are starting to question the safety behind these “forever chemicals.”

Despite their critical role in preserving food packaging and non-stick cookware, organizations like the EPA and CDC have conducted extensive research on the potential negative health effects related to PFAS exposure. The Center for Disease Control conducted surveys that found a large percentage of the US has been exposed to PFAS in some way.

CDC research shows that many people encounter PFAS through sources like:

  • Certain jobs (e.g., Firefighting, Chemical Manufacturing, etc.) 

  • Drinking water 

  • Fish and foods with bioaccumulated PFAS 

  • Soil or dust 

  • Breathing air polluted with PFAS

  • Packaging containing PFAS 

Although the research on humans is nascent, the Environmental Protection Agency highlights that peer-reviewed studies have uncovered that PFAS exposure may lead too: 

  • Reproductive effects (decreased fertility or high blood pressure)

  • Development effects in children 

  • Increased risk of prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers 

  • Weakened immune system

  • Hormonal disruption 

  • Increased cholesterol 

  • Increased risk of obesity 

Important to note that the research above is on a small number of common PFAS compounds. As previously mentioned, there are thousands of different PFAS compounds. Also, the research is ongoing with numerous federal agencies involved. Researchers are also studying the rate of exposure and its link to health effects.

PFAS research is ongoing, and some states and regulators have already made rules about using PFAS in food packaging. The following states have or are in the process of regulating the use of PFAS in food packaging

  • New York 

  • California

  • Washington 

  • Vermont

  • Connecticut 

  • Colorado 

  • Maryland 

  • Minnesota 

  • Rhode Island 

  • Hawaii

  • Oregon 

  • Maine 

The following section will explore current PFAS food packaging regulations in the states listed above. 

Active Laws

New York

The first state in America to enact a law around PFAS and their use in food packaging was New York. On December 31, 2022, New York’s PFAS in Food Packaging Law took effect, prohibiting the use of intentionally added PFAS in food packaging systems.

The law covers all food packaging under the definition of "packages or packaging components that are intended for direct food contact and are comprised mainly of paper, paperboard, or other materials originally derived from plant fibers.” The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation states the EPA studies as one of the primary motivations for the law. 

California

Although New York was the first state to have a PFAS food packaging law in effect, California signed one into law October 5, 2021 with Assembly Bill (AB) 1200. The new law, starting January 1 2023, addresses worries about "all plant fiber-based food packaging with PFAS."

AB 1200 bans “all plant fiber-based food packaging containing PFAS that are either intentionally added or present at levels exceeding 100 parts per million total organic fluorine.” California regulators stated that PFAS can harm people throughout their life cycle. This includes from the production of PFAS to their disposal.

Washington

Washington state approved many bans on food packaging with harmful PFAS chemicals, starting in February of 2023. The February bans included plates, pizza boxes, and plastic wraps. Washington's Department of Ecology will ban bags, bowls, and open-top containers in May 2024. Washington, California, and New York have laws about paper and plant-fiber packaging because they often use PFAS chemicals.

Vermont

The state of Vermont also passed PFAS laws in a wider bill covering Chemicals of Concern in Food Packaging. Section (a) of 1672: Food Packaging prohibits the sale and use of food packaging with intentionally added PFAS. The law covers manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors and went into effect July 1st of this year. 

Laws Not in Effect 

Connecticut 

Governor Lamont of Connecticut signed Public Act 21-191 into Connecticut law in July 2021. The law is focused on banning the use of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging. The ban on firefighting foam became effective in October of 2021 and the ban on PFAS in food packaging is set to come into effect December 31 of this year. Public Act 21-191 is part of the Connecticut Governor’s wider 2019 PFAS Action Plan, working to minimize the risk of human health effects on Connecticut citizens caused by PFAS. 

Colorado

The Colorado General Assembly has an act in place titled, “Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals Consumer Protection Act,” which is set to come into effect January 1 of 2024. The law goes further than just food packaging, banning the sale of carpets, oil and gas products, and more that contain intentionally added PFAS. HB22-1345 also contains labeling requirements for cookware that require PFAS as a non-sticking agent.

Maryland 

Passed last July by the Maryland General Assembly, the George “Walter” Taylor Act (PFAS Chemicals—Prohibitions and Requirements) works to prohibit the use, manufacturing, and sale of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam, textiles, and direct contact food packaging. The PFAS ban will take place January 1, 2024 and, similar to other laws, has a focus on paper- and fiber-based food packaging. 

Minnesota 

Another PFAS law coming into effect January 1, 2024 is from Minnesota  and their 2022 statutes on Trade Regulations and Consumer Protection. The ban is on knowingly selling or distributing a food package that contains intentionally added PFAS. The Minnesota Legislature defines “intentionally added” as “PFAS deliberately added during the manufacture of a product where the continued presence of PFAS is desired in the final package or packaging component to perform a specific function.”

Rhode Island 

Similar to Minnesota’s bill and timeline, Rhode Island is set to prohibit PFAS from food packaging made or sold in the state starting January 1, 2024. One of the sponsors of the bill, Representative Cortvriend, stated: “There's growing concern amongst scientists about the effects of PFAS, enough so that the risks outweigh the benefits of having a grease-free paper wrapper on a cheeseburger.” The bill's focus on food packaging is due to the fact that consumers are exposed mainly from consuming food and water contaminated with PFAS.

Hawaii 

The state of Hawaii has a PFAS food packaging ban that is set to go live December 31, 2024. The law prohibits the manufacturing, sale, and distribution of food packaging that has had PFAS intentionally introduced. The bill explains that alternatives exist for packaging like plates, pizza boxes, and more. Similar to other bills, the Hawaii state legislature also banned PFAS in firefighting foam, a common source of PFAS exposure. 

Oregon 

The next PFAS packaging regulation on the horizon is based in Oregon, set to take effect January 1, 2025. The bill, SB 543, was signed in May of this year by Governor Kotek. The Oregon law focuses on prohibiting PFAS use in foodware containers. The Oregon state legislature defines “foodware container” as bowls, cups, lids, clamshells, and other takeout packaging for prepared foods. Unlike other bills, Oregon’s does not mention a particular focus on paper- and fiber-based packaging, instead focusing on food containers as a whole. 

Maine 

The state of Maine is set to ban products and packaging sold or distributed in Maine that are created with intentionally added PFAS. The law is to take effect January 1, 2030—a far longer timeline than many other states above. The Maine law also contains an exemption for manufacturers that have less than $1,000,000 USD in total annual sales nationally, meaning the bill will not fully phase out PFAS in food packaging in the state. 

How to Prepare for PFAS Regulations 

As highlighted above, 12 US states have already developed regulations to ban PFAS in food packaging and other industries, with 4 of the 12 states operating under live laws. If you are in the business of paper- and fiber-based food packaging solutions, it is essential to be aware of current and emerging regulations around PFAS and other banned chemicals.

With 12 states already acting on research that is not fully developed, it is possible that a nationwide ban could occur as new research regarding PFAS and human health is released. 

Here at the Packaging School, we have an array of online courses that can help you and your organization prepare for upcoming packaging laws. Our catalog expands 30+ online courses, in micro-learning format, covering a wide variety of topics in the packaging industry—including courses in packaging materials and a Food Packaging Certificate in development. 

Check out these courses to prepare your business for PFAS laws

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