A group of chemicals known as PFAS do an excellent job when food needs to be packaged, grease resistant and water resistant. But the so-called “eternal chemicals” don’t break down in the environment and can leak out of containers and travel through soils, contaminating drinking water sources. Not very appetizing.
Manufacturers are gradually moving away from the use of PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Yet high levels of PFAS have recently been found by Consumer Reports in the food packaging of major fast food and grocery chains.
Now is a good time for two American companies, Zume and Solenis, who say they are “doubling down” on an existing collaboration to accelerate the adoption of sustainable packaging in the global food industry. They are introducing a full line of 100% PFAS-free molded fiber packaging, including mugs, bowls, egg cartons and protein trays.
The harmful chemical-free packaging will roll out around May or June in the United States, produced at Zume’s headquarters in Camarillo, Calif., said Alex Garden, president and CEO.
“We have plans to expand to our manufacturers internationally throughout 2022,” says Garden. “We have a growing number of global brands that will start using our PFAS-free packaging, including one of the fastest growing healthy food/salad chains that will start using our bowls this summer.”
In August 2021, the two companies released an open-source recipe for replacing PFAS in food packaging, saying they wanted to accelerate the phase-out of chemicals.
“We continue to conduct foundational work with our PFAS-free solution to better understand and optimize key factors such as fiber blend, fiber modification, chemical formulation, chemical application, and processing conditions,” says Larry. Hutchinson, head of global market development for food packaging at Solénis.
“The knowledge and experience gained has greatly improved the performance of the Oil and Grease Barrier to meet most food service needs with a commercially available, competitive and compostable solution.”
Drowning in plastic
They may want to make a boat out of this PFAS-free molded fiber.
Globally, approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced each year, nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. It ends up polluting oceans and waterways or accumulating in landfills. Microplastics, the remains of plastic waste, have been found in human blood.
“With Solenis, we are pioneering a solution,” says Garden.
“Our full line of PFAS-free molded fiber packaging is made from fibers sourced from materials like agricultural waste.
“The fibers used vary by manufacturing location, but can be made from bagasse (sugar cane fiber), bamboo, wheat, straw and other organic fibers. By using agricultural waste and not burning it for disposal, we significantly reduce carbon emissions compared to the production and disposal of plastic and polystyrene.
“Unlike plastic and polystyrene, our plant-based wraps are also compostable and can be used to regenerate the soil, creating a sustainable, closed-loop system.”
Zume and Solenis are also working with global robotics leader ABB to automate production at the scale needed to serve global customers “and at a price that allows them to move from plastic without disrupting manufacturing processes or their bottom line,” adds the CEO.
While there are other alternatives to PFAS-free food packaging, they haven’t been widely adopted, Garden says, because they don’t meet end-user requirements, are too expensive, or aren’t available at scale. necessary for widespread adoption. .