Chemicals of concern in food packaging – what’s in your kitchen?
Author: Rachael Ridley
Greaseproof paper is widely used throughout the food packaging and food retail industries – from microwavable popcorn bags and the baking paper used for muffins, to the paper that is used to wrap your takeaway sandwich or meat and cheese at the deli. You probably even have some in your kitchen.
But have you ever thought about whether the chemicals used to treat the paper could be transferred onto the food you eat and what impact that could have on your health? Or whether those chemicals could make their way into our environment and the food chain if the paper is littered or mistakenly put in the recycling bin?
If these questions are new to you, you’re not alone. Despite a growing body of evidence, there is little public awareness of these potentially harmful chemicals and no strong regulation that prohibits their use.
The problem with greaseproof paper
Chemicals are sometimes used to create water and grease resilience in paper (a thin plastic lining can also be applied to paper to provide this function, meaning the paper is safe to use but not recyclable). A number of chemicals can be used to create the greaseproof function, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS compounds are difficult to break down and can accumulate in both the human body and the environment. Based on current evidence from studies in animals, there is concern that continued exposure to these compounds could have adverse health effects in humans, such as kidney and testicular cancer, decreased sperm quality and thyroid disease.
It’s important to note that these studies are not conclusive in humans and scientists are divided over whether the results can be applied to humans. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that we should be cautious and limit our exposure to these chemicals.
PFAS compounds in food packaging are also a hazard to the environment, as they prevent the products from being recycled, and there is concern that the chemical compounds could accumulate in our waterways and make their way into the food chain.
Is there a solution?
Scientists are still debating whether or not these chemicals have adverse health effects on humans, and as such, there is no legislation that requires companies to disclose the chemicals used in their products. This means it is very difficult to discern which paper products have been treated with chemicals of concern by reading the information on their packaging.
The good news is Aussie paper specialists, Alliance Paper, have created a sustainable and safe paper product, Rollo Wrap, that can be used as an alternative to greaseproof paper (both chemically treated and plastic lined). Rollo Wrap is made entirely from renewable materials and is free of all chemicals of concern. It is also recyclable (with minimal food contamination) and compostable. Planet Ark has endorsed Rollo Wrap and is urging food retailers and schools to make the switch to food packaging that is better for our health and the environment.
Why does Planet Ark endorse Rollo Wrap?
The Planet Ark Endorsement Program is designed to give consumers and businesses the confidence to make the right purchasing decisions for their health and the environment. Each product is studied and scrutinised to establish whether it meets our strict environmental critera, which also includes the quality, health impacts and cost of the product.
Planet Ark supports initiatives that limit our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and has endorsed Rollo Wrap based on The Precautionary Principle, which states that “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”
Planet Ark proudly endorses Rollo Wrap as a safer and environmentally responsible alternative to greaseproof and plastic-lined paper products because it is:
- Free of all chemicals of concern
- Made from renewable, FSC certified materials
- Recyclable (with minimal food contamination)
- Certified compostable, both in industrial (EN 13432) and domestic systems (NF T 51-800)
- GMO free
What can Rollo Wrap be used for?
Rollo Wrap is a great replacement for many types of greaseproof paper and can be used in various ways, including wrapping sandwiches and raw produce in delis. It can even be used for baking in the oven.
What can I do?
- If you are interested in using Rollo Wrap in your business or school canteen, contact us for more information.
Rachael joined Planet Ark in 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor and writer. Rachael is excited to use her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change.
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