With all the action on circularity and recycling infrastructure for packaging, it is easy to forget the additional challenges the flexible packaging industry is facing. This includes toxicity in packaging questions, with legislation and regulation aimed at per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other chemicals, across the country; continued pressure from environmental organizations, as well as some governments, to deem plastics toxic regardless of their make-up or use; and “truth” in labeling proposals prohibiting resin codes and other markers for recyclability. FPA has been weighing in on all these conversations.
Growing concerns over PFAS as environmental contaminants with human health implications have led to proposals at the federal and state levels to regulate certain PFAS to reduce their risks, including in food packaging. This is a complex subject because PFAS covers a wide range of chemicals—including those listed as concerns—that do not share all the same concerns. This situation has created confusion among many stakeholders, which in turn has driven unfounded generalization of these concerns. For example, a bill in Vermont aims to ban all PFAS in food packaging. As the PFAS used in food packaging do not carry the same concern as others in the PFAS group, FPA has advocated for science-based risk assessments and alternative assessments to be carried out before bans are imposed.
In other cases, like in Canada, the government is trying to label all plastics “toxic” to more easily ban groups of plastic manufactured items, regardless of their actual chemical make-up or any risk to human health or the environment. By using Schedule 1 of the Canada Environmental Protection Act to list all plastic manufactured items as toxic substances, the government is attempting to bypass just the type of scientific risk-based assessment that is necessary. The proposed list of banned items is only six now—bags, straws, stirrers, utensils, six-pack rings, and food service ware. But the precedent would be set to add any new items at any time without regard to the substrate, use, or risk. In addition to filing our own comments during consultation, FPA joined coalition comments and urges member and supply chain partners doing business in Canada to weigh in. (See the related article in this issue on the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition).
Label proposals are also appearing across the country and target packaging, particularly plastics, regardless of the substrate, use, or risk. One bill in California would ban or restrict the use of the resin identification codes and chasing arrow symbols, as well as any other indication that a package is recyclable on product labeling if the packaging does not meet certain requirements to be determined by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. These would be California-specific. FPA believes uniform labeling requirements are essential to the free flow of interstate and international commerce, as companies cannot package and label products for specific states. These proposals would also impact the use of the H2R label, which is widely accepted and follows the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, which appropriately harmonizes recycling labeling across the country.
The unintended consequence of generalizations and bans is increased environmental impacts from using more carbon-intensive materials in packaging. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that packaging and plastics are essential to industry and society in North America, and a one-size-fits-all approach to packaging pollution is never the answer.
Alison Keane, Esq., IOM, CAE
President and CEO, Flexible Packaging Association