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Bioassays can help to develop safer food packaging
In vitro study assesses hormonal activity of leachates from bio-based polymers used in food packaging; demonstrates integration of toxicity testing in packaging development can help reduce toxicity and design safer bio-based packaging
Lisa Zimmermann, Food Packaging Forum

In an article published on September 20, 2022, in the journal Frontiers in Toxicology, Emma Harper and co-authors from Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom, analyzed the endocrine-disrupting properties and metabolic activity of leachates from bio-based polymers originating from several renewable resources.

Specifically, the scientists studied polymers extracted from biomass (thermoplastic starch); polymers produced using bio-derived monomers such as polybutylene succinate (PBS), polycaprolactone (PCL), polylactic acid (PLA), polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and blends thereof; or by the action of microorganisms (polyhydroxy butyrate). Inorganic waste additives (poultry litter ash and eggshell), conventional non-bio-based polypropylene (PP), and PP with mixtures of different additives were also included. Harper et al. performed overall migration experiments according to European standards (24 h and 10 days at 20 and 40 °C, water, and methanol). Subsequently, they applied the leachates to mammalian reporter gene assays measuring (ant)agonism of estrogen, androgen, and progestogen nuclear receptor transcriptional activity. They also performed the thiazolyl blue tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay to monitor cytotoxic effects and assess metabolic activity.

The researchers reported that leachates of PLA, poultry feather-based polymer, poultry litter ash/PP (10:90), and eggshell/PP (40:60) induced estrogenic activity which was “within a range of 0.26–0.50 ng 17β-estradiol equivalents per ml.” The methanolic extract of poultry litter ash/PP (10:90) also induced anti-androgenic activity at 40 °C.  None of the analyzed samples showed progestogenic effects. The methanolic extracts of eggshell/PP (0.1:99.9) and PP reduced the metabolic activity of the estrogen-responsive cell line as did the migrate of PP in water.

According to Harper and co-authors, “the major finding” was that changing formulations may help to reduce or eradicate a material’s toxic effects. For instance, the reduction of eggshell in PP/eggshell formulations reduced estrogenic activity compared to higher eggshell concentrations as did the blending of PLA with PBT compared to PLA alone. This demonstrates that performing toxicological analysis alongside the design of bio-based materials provides “a useful approach for safer packaging development.”

A previous study has shown that bio-based plastics are similarly toxic as conventional plastics (FPF reported) and a review discussed the pros and cons of bio-based plastics including toxicological aspects (FPF reported).

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Beyond BPA – Many bisphenols migrate from food packaging
Four studies investigate bisphenol (BP) migration from food packaging and human health effects; demonstrate wide presence of 11 bisphenols in polystyrene take-out food containers from China, Canada, and Poland; report material quality influences BPA migration from polycarbonate cups; indicate higher BPA migration from lined cans than plastic packaging into meat based on probabilistic models; find bisphenols A, F, and S induce genotoxic effects and changes in human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) expression using human blood cells.
Lisa Zimmermann, Food Packaging Forum

In an article published on September 9, 2022, in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution, Nan Zhao and co-authors from Zhejiang University of Technology, Hangzhou, China, analyzed white foam take—out containers made of polystyrene (PS) for the presence of 20 different bisphenols and estimated exposure for the general population. They acquired 152 new containers, mainly used for fast food packaging, from restaurants located in 21 Chinese and three Canadian cities as well as in Krakow, Poland between 2018 and 2019. Zhao and colleagues performed migration experiments with food simulants (tap water, 10% and 50% ethanol, corn oil) and food (rice) by heating the samples to 100 °C and keeping them for 30 min at room temperature. They also extracted the chemicals from the containers using methanol as a solvent. Using ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) coupled with mass spectrometry, allowed the scientists to determine the quantity of the 20 target bisphenols.


Zhao et al. detected 11 bisphenols in the 126 samples collected in China, five in the 18 samples collected in Canada, and four in the six samples from Krakow. Overall of the 11 detected bisphenols, bisphenol A (BPA; CAS 80-05-7) was found most frequently, followed by bisphenol S (BPS; CAS 80-09-1) and bisphenol AF (BPAF; CAS 1478-61-1). The concentrations varied between countries; PS containers from China had the highest mean concentrations for BPA and BPS with 2694 and 5525 ng/g, respectively while the corresponding levels in Canadian samples were 81 and 45 ng/g, and in Polish samples 95 and 16 ng/g.

The researchers also estimated the daily intake of BPA, BPS, and bisphenol TMC (BPTMC; CAS 129188-99-4) by using the analyzed PS containers and reported the intake to be “0.50 − 547, 0.054 − 229, and < 0.66 ng/kg bw/day, respectively, for the general population in China, Canada, and Poland.” However, BPTMC was only detected in samples from China and the estimated daily intake was calculated to be 0.065 and 0.055 ng/kg bw/day for females and males, respectively. The authors concluded that their “results suggest that humans were widely exposed to bisphenols through using white foam take-out containers.”

BPA can not only be used as an additive, which might have been the reason for the presence in the PS containers, but also as a monomer for polycarbonate (PC) based plastics. Aparna Agarwal from the University of Delhi, New Delhi, India, and co-authors, quantified the levels of BPA migrating from PC cups into coffee and the influence of microwave heating. In their article published on September 22, 2022, in the International Journal of Food Science + Technology, they described that they compared chemical migration from six locally manufactured with six branded microwavable PC cups into approximately 85 °C hot coffee after different contact times (10, 30, and 60 min) and with and without subsequent microwave heating. BPA concentrations were analyzed by UPLC.

The researchers detected BPA in levels of up to 391 ± 0.05 µg/kg in the analyzed samples. They reported that BPA migration was “minimal in good-quality PC cups”, i.e., branded cups. According to the authors, branded PC containers would “have better material composition and processing conditions than local containers” leading to a worse quality of the local containers. Furthermore, longer contact times and microwave heating were found to increase BPA migration from the locally produced cups. Agarwal and co-authors expressed the need for the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to specify the tolerable daily intake of BPA and for the Indian government to restrict its use in plastic food contact materials in general.

Xin Wang and co-authors from the University College Dublin, Ireland, also aimed to investigate factors influencing BPA migration. In their study, published on September 14, 2022, in the journal Science of the Total Environment, they developed two probabilistic models to estimate BPA migration from plastic and can packaging, respectively, into meat and meat products. Parameters considered in their models included BPA concentrations in the packaging, food contact areas, migration ratios (calculated based on storage conditions and initial BPA concentrations in the packaging), ratios of weight to surface area, and an uncertainty factor amongst others. Different scenarios were modeled. For the plastic packaging, migration from polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based films, mainly polyethylene terephthalate (PET)- based trays, and from both films and trays was estimated based on BPA concentrations reported in the literature. For the cans, epoxy-based coatings, and polyester-based coatings were considered. The probabilistic approach was conducted based on the Monte Carlo simulation “that produces a range of possible outcomes from the repeated calculation of random sampling of input values.”

The modeling showed that higher levels of  BPA migrated from the can compared to the plastic packaging. Specifically, from plastic packaging, BPA migrated in concentrations between 0.017 to 0.13 (5th–95th percentile) µg/kg with a simulated mean of 0.056 µg/kg while it migrated from cans in concentrations from 59.17 to 223.25 µg/kg (5th–95th percentile) and a simulated mean of 134.57  µg/kg. Based on these results, Wang and co-authors estimated that plastic packaging contributes only 3% of BPA levels in meat products leading them to conclude “that plastic packaging may not be the only or dominant source of BPA in non-canned meat products.” Migration ratios were slightly higher for the trays than for the films. For the canned meat they expressed the “need for caution regarding BPA migration from the can coatings.” The plastic packaging migration model further demonstrated that the contact area of food and packaging has the greatest impact on BPA migration.

The authors highlighted that their modeling procedure is a fast and cheap approach to define more focused experimental testing. As a subsequent step, they suggested examining other BPA contamination sources in food such as industrial processing. Overall, their results would indicate “that plastic packaging contributes little to the BPA contamination in non-canned meat products.”

Exposure to BPA and other bisphenols has been found to increase the risk of cancer (FPF reported), including prostate (FPF reported) and breast cancer (FPF reported). In an article published on August 12, 2022, in the journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, Stefano Roberto and co-authors from the University of Sassari, Italy, investigated the genotoxic effects of BPA and its widely used analogs bisphenol F (BPF; CAS 620-92-8) and BPS using an in vitro micronucleus assay as well as the effect on the expression of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). HERVs expression is associated with the pathogenesis of several human diseases (e.g., neurodegenerative diseases, and cancers). Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells were used to perform the micronucleus assay as well as to analyze the expression of HERV-H/env and HERV-R/env genes.

The assay results showed that BPA and also its analogs BPS and BPF increase micronuclei frequency indicating genotoxic effects in the peripheral blood cells. BPA and BPF induced these effects at concentrations down to 0.0025 µg/ml and BPS down to 0.05 µg/ml. Furthermore, all three bisphenols changed the expression of HERVs. However, while BPA led to an upregulation, BPF and BPS led to a downregulation. The authors emphasized that the sample size of their study was small but the relationships between exposure and effects were strong. They recommended performing in vivo studies with a larger sampling size. Roberto et al. concluded that “BPA, BPS, and BPF reported significant genotoxicity in peripheral human blood even at a concentration of reference dose, so these BPA analogs need further studies to better assess their long-term impact on human health.”


In December 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) proposed to lower the tolerable daily intake of BPA from 4 µg/kg body weight/day to 0.04 ng/kg body weight/day (FPF reported). And in April 2022 the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recommended that 34 bisphenols be classified as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) as a group in order to avoid regrettable substitution.

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Zero Waste Europe explains how FCM safety is fundamental to sustainability
Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) report helps businesses understand importance of addressing hazardous chemicals in food contact materials (FCMs), current challenges; shares tools and resources to support decision making; argues that to be truly sustainable, packaging must also be safe for both human and environmental health.
Justin Boucher, Food Packaging Forum

Civil society organization Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) published a report in October 2022 outlining how the safety of chemicals in food contact materials (FCMs) is an essential component of achieving true sustainability. It introduces the increasing demand from consumers and regulatory bodies to achieve a circular economy for packaging, the latest scientific evidence for the presence of hazardous chemicals is various packaging types, and the challenges currently posed by a lack of regulatory guidance and transparency for chemicals along the packaging supply chain.

The report offers businesses guidance on first steps that can be taken to better address hazardous chemicals including a set of recommended peer-reviewed literature resources as well as complimentary databases. Short sections are also dedicated to offering an overview of popular topics including microplastics, bio-based and biodegradable materials, and recycling. Current and upcoming policy initiatives are also addressed, including a summary of regulatory changes expected in the coming years.

Overall, the report emphasizes that “in order for food packaging to be truly sustainable, it needs to be safe for both human and environmental health.” Readers are encouraged to implement reuse systems, which have been scientifically shown to significantly reduce overall impacts compared to single-use packaging. Tools such as the Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard are recommended to support decision-makers in developing and justifying new proposals (FPF reported).

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Public consultation opens on revision of EU FCM regulation
European Commission launches next step within ongoing revision of food contact material (FCM) regulation; asks for stakeholder input on appropriate scope, hazards, tools to implement within future rules; targets citizens and engaged stakeholder organizations; feedback accepted until January 11, 2023.
Justin Boucher, Food Packaging Forum

On October 5, 2022, the European Commission (EC) announced the opening of a public consultation within its ongoing revision of rules within the EU on food contact materials (FCMs). The consultation consists of a questionnaire split into two parts with one focused on receiving input from citizen consumers and the other on all other stakeholders with some background knowledge of the regulatory field. It asks for feedback including on the scope of products to be regulated as FCMs, the extent of future regulation, hazards that should be considered, the appropriate point of regulatory intervention, and the tools to be used for risk management. The consultation is open until January 11, 2023. According to the consultation website, the EC’s adoption of the revised FCM regulation is currently scheduled for the second quarter of 2023.

This public consultation is the latest step within the EC’s revision process on FCM legislation formally launched in 2018. It follows a consultation period that ended in January 2021 on an inception impact assessment for the revisions (FPF reported) in which over 300 comments were submitted by various stakeholder groups (FPF reported here and here). This followed a series of earlier stakeholder workshops (FPF reported here and here), the publication of an externally contracted evaluation report (FPF reported), and the publication of EC staff working documents evaluating the current legislation on FCMs and finding that “overall, the efficiency of the FCM legislation appears to be sub-optimal” (FPF reported).

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Workshop to support enforcement of EU FCM regulation
Article summarizes objectives and proceedings summary of a workshop series taking place in September 2021 helping EU agencies to strengthen enforcement of compliance work for food contact materials (FCMs) in Europe; 84 participants compile toolbox guiding enforcement agencies'.
Lisa Zimmermann, Food Packaging Forum

In an article published on June 19, 2022, in the Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, Malte Glüde from the Chemical and Veterinary Analysis Agency (CVUA), Fellbach, Germany, and co-authors reported on a workshop for European Union agencies on the enforcement of compliance work for food contact materials (FCMs) on the European market. 84 people participated online in September 2021 and the majority who provided feedback “found the workshop helpful and inspiring.”

Glüde and co-authors described that the rationale for organizing the workshop was that the enforcement of the FCM regulations in Europe is weak. One major reason for this is the high number of chemicals that may be used in FCMs. Under Regulation 2023/2006 on Good Manufacturing Practice (EC 2023/2006) every business operator that contributes to the manufacture of an FCM needs to perform compliance work to guarantee the safety of its product. This also means that enforcement agencies need to know and inspect all business operators to check if they complied with Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006 and if a product is safe.

During the workshop, the participants compiled “a toolbox for enforcement authorities.” It includes a letter specifies the product controlled and the aspects the compliance works is auditing. Enforcement agencies can send it to business operators who again are asked to forward it to their suppliers. This way the chain of business operators around the world can be tracked. The toolbox also summarizes the way authorities can check documents for compliance and potential measures in case of non-compliance. Further sessions of the workshop gave insides on past experiences with enforcing Regulation (EC) No 2023/2006 in Germany and Switzerland and the concept of how business operators in Demark inspect food contact business operators. Ideas for enforcement campaigns were also collected.

The authors concluded that the workshop helped to make more enforcement agencies aware “of the most efficient way to control compliance with article 3 of Regulations 1935/2004.” In the future, Glüde and co-authors stated, “the most challenging part for enforcement authorities is finding suitable measures in case of non-compliance in the supply chain outside the area of jurisdiction or even outside the EU. As a worst case, a ban on imports must be considered.”


In 2020 German consumer organizations included inadequate enforcement by authorities as one hole in current EU FCM regulations hindering consumer protection from hazardous chemicals (FPF reported). In June 2022 the European Commission published a working document on the evaluation of the EU FCM legislation in which it expressed a clear need to reinforce the system of enforcement (FPF reported).

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Assessing the circularity of single-use glass
Zero Waste Europe and Eunomia investigate the circularity of single-use container glass in Germany, France, the UK and US; Germany has the highest collection rates for glass and the highest proportion of recycled glass in containers; US is the lowest due to lack of collection facilities and mixed collection of glass with other packaging types; collecting glass separately and by color is the most effective way to increase circularity.
Lindsey Parkinson, Food Packaging Forum

In 2020, 80% of glass packaging sold in Europe was collected for recycling (FPF reported). But how do collection programs in different countries affect the amount of glass that gets collected? And how much of that collected material is effectively recycled back into packaging? On September 1, 2022, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) published a report diving into the circularity of single-use container glass in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and United States to find where glass gets lost, and how the regions can improve at each step of the recycling process.  

For each of the countries investigated, ZWE and their research partner Eunomia used four measurements to assess circularity, (i) collection rate, the amount of glass collected versus what is sold within the country; (ii) recycling rate, how much of the collected glass is good for remelting versus glass on the market; (iii) closed-loop recycling rate, percentage that is turned into new glass packaging (the true circular recycling rate); and (iv) recycled content rate, the percentage of container glass produced in the country made of recycled glass.   

Germany’s container glass recycling system is the most circular, it had the highest scores in all four measurements with 81% of container glass sold in the country collected for recycling, 79% is recycled, nearly all of which is recycled back to container glass, and 65% of glass packaging produced in the country is from recycled sources. France and the UK were roughly similar to one another in all aspects, collecting 70% and 71% respectively, though the UK recycles one-third less back into container glass. The US was noticeably the lowest with only a 44% glass collection rate and 21% closed loop recycling rate.  

ZWE identified the methods of recycling collection for  as a major source of loss of circular container glass in the UK and US. Much of the recycling in both countries is either collected with multiple packaging types mixed or even when glass is collected separately the different colors are still mixed. To recycle glass back into containers, it must be separated by color. By mixing the colors, the US and UK increase the chances of contamination and make it harder, and thus more expensive, to recycle. ZWE found that 7% of the glass that is lost during recycling in the US is due to a failure to find a buyer for the material and the collected glass is instead sent to landfill. 

In The United States, states with a well-run deposit return scheme for glass beverage bottles “achieve collection rates between 75% and 59%. Similarly, existing [deposit return scheme] systems for glass in Europe are currently achieving between 84% and 89% collection rates for glass beverage bottles in 2019 and have since improved in some cases (e.g., Finland reported a 98% glass collection rate in 2021).” Deposit systems with color sorting would improve nearly all measures in countries like the UK and US which, at this time, do not widely implement such programs.  

The United States senate is currently considering two bills to increase access to recycling in the country (FPF reported). Scotland plans to implement a deposit return scheme for beverage containers beginning in 2023 (FPF reported) and UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), with encouragement from local civil society organizations, is designing extended producer responsibility and deposit returns for England (FPF reported

ZWE concludes that the circularity of single-use glass packaging is highly country specific. Therefore, the two main factors that influence the ability for a high circularity are the effectiveness and the methods of collection for recycling. A high-quality separate collection system can help to achieve this. As an alternative for single-use glass they also point out the potential of an efficient refillable system. 

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

EC adopts regulation on recycled plastic food contact materials
European Commission (EC) publishes new regulation encompassing recycling processes for all plastics intended to come into contact with food; outlines authorization procedure for recyclers, enforcement for Member States
Lindsey Parkinson, Food Packaging Forum

On September 15, 2022, the European Commission officially adopted the new regulation on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, (EU) 2022/15XX. The new regulation requires the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to assess and, if appropriate, authorize traditional as well as novel recycling processes “capable of producing safe plastics” while also outlining quality control and enforcement. The regulation comes into effect October 2022, and the Commission has developed a website with answers to frequently asked questions about the regulation and how it will be applied. 

To assist with transparency and enforcement by Member States, the regulation “sets up a Union (EU) register of recyclers, recycling processes, recycling installations, the facilities where these installations are located, recycling schemes and novel technologies.” EFSA already evaluates PET recycling procedures, but the new regulation also “requires that EFSA provides an opinion on whether novel recycling technologies are suitable to be used as a basis for recycling processes based on the kind of plastic input they are intended for” (FPF reported). Any recycled plastic food contact materials (FCMs) produced through these processes both in the EU and imported must also follow rules from Regulation (EU) 10/2011 on plastic FCMs.    


The EU collected comments on the proposed regulation between December 2021 and January 2022 (FPF reported) and released an updated draft in March of 2022 (FPF reported). In the time since March, the recycled plastics regulation had to be approved by Member States and the European Parliament. FPF commented on the original draft (FPF reported) with concerns about the chemical safety of packaging that could be put on the market under the “novel technologies” label. A systematic review of chemicals migrating from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles, co-authored by scientists from FPF, Brunel University, and others, showed that recycled PET is a source of migrating hazardous chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA, CAS 80-05-7) (FPF reported), highlighting the need for increased safety evaluation of recycled plastics used in direct food contact.   

Nils Johansson argued in a recent comment in Sustainability Science that in order “to limit hazardous substances in a circular economy, the focus needs first and foremost to shift from the current win–win paradigm of the circular economy, to become more reflexive.” There needs to be systems in place, Johansson writes, that make the trade-offs between increased chemical exposure and decreased material use “visible, communicated and discussed.” Since currently “the complex balancing between the positive and negative effects of a circular economy disappears behind the threshold limits.”

Upcoming revisions to the packaging and packaging waste directive as well as the FCM legislation will continue to push all steps of the food packaging value chain in line with the goals of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (FPF reported), Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (FPF reported), and Farm to Fork Strategy (FPF reported).   

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Comment on EU's Classification, Labeling and Packaging Regulation (CLP) revision and proposed substances of very high concern (SVHCs)
European Commission publishes draft amendment to the EU’s Classification, Labeling, and Packaging Regulation (CLP); adds classification of endocrine disrupting chemicals and adopts hazard classes from REACH; comment period until October 18, 2022; European Chemicals Agency proposes classifying 9 chemicals as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) including bisphenol S and melamine; comment period until October 17, 2022.
Lindsey Parkinson, Food Packaging Forum

The final public comment period on an amendment to the EU’s Classification, Labeling, and Packaging Regulation (CLP, EC 1272/2008) concerning the incorporation on chemical hazard classes opened on September 20, 2022. The amendment will add two chemical categories concerning endocrine disruptors: “known or presumed endocrine disruptors (category 1) and suspected endocrine disruptors (category 2), both for human health and for the environment.” Moreover, it will add the hazard classes PBT (persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic), vPvB (very persistent, very bioaccumulative), PMT (persistent, mobile, toxic) and vPvM (very persistent, very mobile) borrowed from the REACH regulation.

This draft amendment is an offshoot of an ongoing, broader revision of the CLP (FPF reported) that was accelerated through the legislative process (FPF reported). Not all stakeholders agreed with the incorporation of the new classes into the regulation. Concerning PMT and vPvM classes, “while 75% of companies and business associations did not consider such categories necessary, 79% of civil society, 62% of citizens and 53% of public authorities did.”

The amendment will likely be adopted by the end of 2022. However, to give suppliers “time to adapt to the new classification and labeling provisions… the obligation to classify and label substances and mixtures in accordance with this Regulation should be deferred.” The comment deadline is October 18, 2022.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is also currently accepting comments on “nine proposals to identify new substances of very high concern” (SVHCs). The substances include food contact chemicals with known health effects such as bisphenol S (BPS, CAS 80-09-1) and melamine (CAS 108-78-1) (FPF reported, also here and here).


The comment deadline for the proposed SVHCs is October 17, 2022.

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Wrestling with the externalities of the plastics supply chain
As the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee of the UN Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution approaches, publications highlight the diverse effects the plastics supply chain has on human health and the environment, particularly the burden on vulnerable communities.
Lindsey Parkinson, Food Packaging Forum

“The welfare of the public and the planet share name – Equality doesn’t mean being the exact same, but enacting a vast aim: The good of the world to its highest capability.”  

With her poem An Ode We Owe, poet Amanda Gorman opened the meeting of the UN General Assembly on September 20, 2022, by urging world leaders to act on the overlapping issues of the climate crisis, social justice, and poverty. Much of the General Assembly will discuss progress and losses towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030, which are largely based on human rights. The topic of global equity in chemical exposure and the effects of plastic waste abound as negotiations for the UN treaty to end plastic pollution approach. Recent reports from across the world have highlighted how from the location of petrochemical plants to the chemicals in consumer products, and ultimately the exported waste and processing, the externalities of the plastics supply chain historically and in the present unjustly burden vulnerable communities.  

In an editorial published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynaecology on September 7, 2022, Jessica Trowbridge and co-authors of the University of California, San Francisco argued that fossil fuels are the “common denominator” between climate change, chemical exposure, and negative effects on women’s and children’s health. Trowbridge et al. wrote that humans are exposed to “anthropogenically-produced petrochemicals via air, food, water, and dermal contact” and for chemicals with enough health data, there is evidence of negative maternal and child health outcomes. “For example, chemicals in plastic production such as phthalates can increase the risk of preterm delivery, which is the strongest risk factor for infant mortality” (FPF reported, also here). Furthermore, “exposure to anthropogenic chemicals is… a source of health inequities both in the USA and globally.”  

In the southern US state of Louisiana, air permits for a new petrochemical plant proposed by Formosa Plastics were revoked on September 14, 2022. This decision blocks the corporation’s bid to build a nearly 10 km2 (2400 acre) factory complex in a region dubbed ‘Cancer Alley.’ Cancer Alley is a ‘sacrifice zone’ in southern Louisiana along the Mississippi River which contains over 150 petrochemical plants and refineries. Forty-six out of every million inhabitants in the region will likely develop cancer, the US national average is 30 per million. Earthjustice, which represented the local community in the lawsuit, stated that “petrochemical production is the fastest-growing use of fossil fuels — mostly used for making plastics and much of it for single use.”  

According to reporting by The Washington Post and ProPublica, the production of those plastics and other products would have released 800 tons of toxic chemicals into the air each year, doubling or even tripling the level of cancer-causing pollutants already affecting local communities.  

While the Louisiana community of St. James’ Parish was able to block the building of the Formosa Plastics complex, Kristina Marusic of Environmental Health News details concerns from communities in the state of Pennsylvania about the opening of a new petrochemical plant in their region. Marusic writes that the new plant, which produces virgin plastic pellets, will “emit 159 tons of particulate matter pollution, 522 tons of volatile organic compounds, and more than 40 tons of other hazardous air pollutants.” All are associated with a diverse array of health effects. Shell promises that the small plastic pellets will not escape the facility. However, the tiny plastic pieces can be difficult to contain, plastic spills are often hard to clean and the resulting physical and chemical pollution (FPF reported) can have disastrous effects (FPF reported).


At the other end of the supply chain, the Netherlands was recently reported by Plastic Soup Foundation to be the world leader in plastic exports, per capita. Much of the plastic waste from the EU and UK is sent via the Netherlands to countries throughout the Global South including 70 million kgs to Indonesia and 64 million kg to Vietnam.  

Türkiye also receives plastic waste exports from the EU. A Human Rights Watch report published on September 21, 2022, documented “the health impacts of plastic recycling on facility workers and residents living near facilities.” The recycling facility workers in Türkiye “often come from some of the most marginalized populations in Turkey, including child workers, refugees, and undocumented migrants.” Human Rights Watch declares that “while often touted as a positive, environmentally friendly practice, plastic recycling can pose significant threats to human rights and the environment.” 

Plastics can serve an important purpose in many functions and industries but balancing the utility of the material with the effects on human and environmental health is important for creating a more just society.  

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on September 24, 2022, the creation of a new office “charged with advancing environmental justice and civil rights.” This includes “meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.”  

The office may be able to help in cases like St. James Parish and their concerns over emissions from Formosa Plastics. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality received over 15,000 public comments opposing air permits in 2020. The judge who recently overturned the air permits wrote that the community, which is primarily Black or African American, “could not have known that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality would violate its duty.” 

As Trowbridge wrote in their “common denominator” editorial, “efforts to reduce fossil fuel use will mitigate exacerbations of maternal and child health inequities due to climate change, while also decreasing a source of chemical exposures, which could contribute to a double benefit to health.”  

One potentially large contribution to the global reduction in petrochemical exposure is the Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution (aka the UN Plastics Treaty, FPF reported also here). The first Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee meeting is scheduled for late November 2022. As negotiators prepare, it is critical to support measurable, evidence-based solutions to plastic pollution.  


Industry coalitions can make a significant impact on reducing plastic pollution when incentivized to do so but they can also be used as a form of greenwashing. Before the adoption of the UN Plastics Treaty 70 organizations signed a Business Statement for a Legally Binding UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation. The statement included “explicit recognition of the need to reduce virgin plastic production and use,” an industry first. Yet, Planet Tracker found that 60 out of the 65 members of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste which includes global companies in the petrochemical and consumer products industries like Shell, Dow, Formosa Plastics, and P&G (FPF reported), did not publicly support the statement despite the fact the Alliance seems named to appear aligned with the same goals. 


Regardless, the World Wildlife Fund and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation continue to build a network in support the work of the UN negotiations. They announced a coalition of 85 organizations to create “common vision for an effective and ambitious” treaty. The participating businesses, financial institutions, and NGOs agree the treaty must include a “reduction of plastic production and use through a circular economy approach, increased circulation of necessary plastic and the prevention and remediation of hard-to-abate micro- and macro-plastic leakage into the environment.” 


“Though this fight we did not choose, for preserving the earth, isn’t a battle too big to win, but a blessing too large to lose.” -Amanda Gorman, An Ode We Owe 

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Microplastic exposure through drinking cups and human health impacts
Study finds up to 6000 particles/L to be released from disposable drinking cups; scientists estimate humans ingest 37,613–89,294 microplastics through plastic cups use per year; study suggests consumption from plastic containers changes human gut and oral microbiota composition; review concludes that uptake of microplastics carrying pathogens may impact human health.
Lisa Zimmermann, Food Packaging Forum

Two recent scientific studies assessed human exposure to plastic particles by consumption from disposable drinking cups and another two studies analyzed the potential associated health impact.

In an article published on September 9, 2022, in the journal Science of the Total Environment, Huier Chen and co-authors from China Jiliang University, Hangzhou, China, investigated the release of microplastics from disposable cups under daily use conditions. The scientists purchased 90 disposable cups made of polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), or paper coated with polyethylene (PE) from 51 manufacturers between July 2021 and January 2021, and filled them for 20 min with 10, 40, 70, or 95 °C warm ultrapure water or room temperature warm carbonated drinks and soda water. Subsequently, they analyzed the water for released particles using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), and Raman spectroscopy.

PP, PS, and PE-coated cups released between 781–4951, 838–5215, and 675–5984 particles/L into the 95 °C ultrapure water, respectively. While no difference in MP release was found for the different materials, the researchers reported that higher temperatures and acidic carbonated beverages would enhance microplastic release. Exposing the cups a second time, mimicking reuse, showed that microplastic transfer into water decreased with the use cycle. Chen et al. also assessed the microplastic characteristics. Most particles had a size of 5 to 10 µm and were of irregular shape.

Guanyu Zhou from Sichuan University, China, and co-authors also analyzed the release and estimated the ingestion of microplastics from disposable drinking cups . In their article published on September 13, 2022, in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the scientists outlined that they analyzed PP, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and PE cups of 10 brands in Chengdu, China. They filled the cups with deionized water for different periods (1 – 30 min) and kept them at different temperatures (room temperature, 5 °C, 60 °C). One part of the samples was oscillated (60 or 120 rpm) or washed before the experimental procedure. Using SEM and Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), the researchers found that plastic cups released between 723 and 1489 particles/cup within 5 min with the majority being smaller than 50 µm. Shaking, higher temperatures, and longer incubation times promoted microplastic release. Based on their results, the authors estimated that drinking from a plastic cup every four to five days leads to the ingestion of between 37,613 and 89,294 microplastics per year. One measure to reduce microplastic contamination is “washing plastic cups before use”, Zhou and co-authors further reported.

How the frequent consumption of food packaged in plastic may affect human health, was analyzed by Hua Zha from Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Hangzhou, China, and co-authors and reported in their article published on September 6, 2022, in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. The scientists recruited 390 students who reported frequently (more than 3-times a week) or occasionally (up to one time per week) or never consuming food from disposable plastic containers. Based on fecal and saliva samples, the human gut and oral microbiota composition were analyzed and differences between the three cohorts were evaluated.

The results demonstrated that occasional and frequent consumption from disposable plastic containers “could cause the alterations of composition, structure and functional pathways of the gut and oral microbiota…which could result in gastrointestinal dysfunction and cough.” The study did not analyze micro- and nanoplastic concentrations in food containers but hypothesized that the observed microbial alterations may be due to plastic particle contaminants in the food chain. That microplastics may affect humans’ gut microbiome has already previously been demonstrated (FPF reported and here).

However, not only the particles themselves may affect human health but also pathogenic bacteria that attach to their surface and end up in foodstuff together with the particles. In an article published on September 6, 2022, in the journal Trends in Food Science & Technology, Raffaella Tavelli and co-authors from Ghent University, Belgium, summarized the current knowledge on microbial food pathogens attaching to microplastics, the impacts of microplastics on the bacteria (e.g., growth, toxin production), as well as the role of microplastic to transport foodborne pathogens into humans. They identified knowledge gaps or inconclusive results concerning attachment of microbial toxins to plastic particles as well as the effect of microplastic on virulence and evolution of microbes. But overall, Tavelli et al. concluded that “biofilm-coated MPs in foodstuffs may pose several risks to food safety, but further research will be essential to determine the extent of their effect on human health.”

This article was republished with permission from the Food Packaging Forum. View the original version.

Microplastics in food: occurrence, source, detection, and perception
Three studies investigate microplastics in food; review summarizes particle migration from food packaging into honey and calls for universal analysis methods; research study presents analytical method to detect and identify microplastics in certain foods; survey finds public seems unaware of food packaging as microplastic source and seldomly connects microplastics with human health consequences.
Lisa Zimmermann, Food Packaging Forum

Two research studies and one review evaluated microplastics in food, looking at migration from food packaging, occurrence in food, methods to detect and identify them, as well as the public’s understanding of microplastics including potential sources and impacts.

In a review article published on August 8, 2022, in the journal Microplastics, Klytaimnistra Katsara and co-authors from different Greek universities and research institutes, summarized the literature on the migration of micro- and nanoplastics from plastic food packaging and the presence in food with a focus on honey.


The authors described that the migration of contaminants from food packaging into food is usually studied by using food simulants. Such experiments have demonstrated that chemicals as well as plastic monomers can migrate from the packaging into the food. Individual studies have used the same approach to show that microplastics migrate, e.g., polystyrene fragments into drink simulants or nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) particles from tea bags into the tea itself (FPF reported). However, most studies on microplastics in food and beverages focused on their mere presence without experimentally demonstrating whether they originated from plastic packaging or other sources (FPF reported and here).

For honey, Katsara and co-authors summarized that besides chemicals such as styrene, plasticizers, and bisphenol A, large numbers of synthetic particles have been detected in honey, mostly studied under laboratory conditions. The particles would result from the harvesting, processing, and packaging of the honey although plastics “were already present in the honey bees’ feed, body, and wings, transferred to the hive from the blossoms.” Therefore they concluded that micro- and nanoplastic presence in honey has not yet been “directly connected to food packaging or the different types of honey and their properties (viscosity, pH value, and moisture content) or their storing conditions (temperature, humidity, light, and time).” The scientists emphasized that a standardized isolation, detection, and quantification method needs to be developed to study plastic particle migration into honey. Furthermore, they highlighted that the use of plastic packaging would need to be reduced and new packaging materials, more resistant to stress conditions, be developed “to eliminate the possibility of microplastic/nanoplastics migration” and to better protect human health.

Jinwoo Kim and co-authors from the Korea University, Seoul, South Korea, agree with Katsara et al. that the quantitative analysis of microplastics in foods is important since humans are exposed via that sources. In an article published on August 22, 2022, in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, they present a method to isolate, detect and identify microplastics in foods using the “three representative foods” salts, soy sauce, and pollock roe.

They reviewed existing sample pretreatment methods and selected six of which they compared digestion efficiencies by measuring the remaining total carbon. Based on their assessment, Kim and co-authors proposed a digestion method based on hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for pretreating salt and soy sauce samples and one based on potassium hydroxide and H2O2 for the pollock roe. To test the robustness of their method (i.e., extraction recovery of reference materials), they spiked the three food types with reference materials including five polymer types, and sent the samples to four independent laboratories without providing them the types and numbers of the reference materials. After the pretreatment/extraction, the laboratories applied Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy for microplastic analysis.

Kim et al. reported the average microplastic recovery rates were 73.2%, 76.9%, and 86.2%, for salt, soy sauce, and salted pollock roe, respectively. Furthermore, “analysis of variance of the experimental results demonstrated that the recoveries of the reference materials did not depend on any of the five plastic materials or the participating laboratories, indicating that the proposed methods are capable of reliably determining microplastics greater than 100 µm in selected foods.” Three of the laboratories also analyzed the microplastics present in the unspiked, packaged salt, soy sauce, and pollock roe samples. The number of detected particles differed between sample types and laboratories. Between 77 and 332 items were detected in 100 g salt, between 12 and 78 in 100 ml sauce, and between 25 and 39 particles in 10 g pollock roe.

The authors concluded that the food sample pretreatment method needs to be adapted according to the nature of the organic matter that might interfere with the particle analysis instead of using a universal method. Moreover, they highlighted that “although the isolation and identification methods for microplastics were found to be robust… it is still uncertain whether the selected methods are sufficient for smaller microplastics because the size of the reference materials used in this study was approximately 100 µm.” Since adverse effects are expected to increase with decreasing particle size, they recommended validating their method for smaller particles.

Marcos Felipe-Rodriguez and co-authors from the University of Bergen, Norway, explored the general public’s understanding of microplastics including occurrence (i.e., spread) and consequences. In their article, published on August 3, 2022, in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, they described how they surveyed 2720 adult Norwegians and analyzed their responses to open-ended questions. The survey showed “that the public seems to think of microplastics as something bad that might pollute the ocean and harm animal species” while fewer respondents mentioned spread in humans or food, as well as personal consequences. Moreover, Felipe-Rodriguez et al. reported that the public generally seems to have a low awareness of the potential sources of microplastics. The sources mentioned the most were fleece, clothing, and litter while food packaging was not named at all. The article further evaluated differences by sociodemographic characteristics and generally hopes to guide “tailored communications and interventions aimed at reducing plastic pollution and plastic waste.”

Previous assessments of consumer perceptions have focused on the role of eco-labels and innovative packaging (FPF reported) as well as on different packaging types (FPF reported).

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How to increase the recyclability of paper packaging
Confederation of Paper Industries, publishes guide for packaging designers to increase recyclability of paper products; to improve recycling quality, suggests limiting laminates, coatings, inks, varnishes, and adhesives to no more than 10% of pack weight, aspirational goal of 5%; standard paper mills cannot process much laminate, e.g. coffee cups, cold cups, beverage cartons
Lindsey Parkinson, Food Packaging Forum

Across Europe, approximately 74% of paper and board products are recycled and packaging specifically is even higher, 82%. 4evergreen, an alliance of European industries in the paper packaging value chain, has a target of 90% recycling rate for fiber-based packaging by 2030 (FPF reported).  

Building upon the increased collaboration and goals of the European paper supply chain, on August 31, 2022, the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), representing the UK paper industry, published updated guidelines for recyclability. The guidelines define “components of paper that can normally be dealt with by standard paper mills and those that can be problematic and, depending on their amount, composition and interaction with other components, can lead to undesired consequences.” By outlining the types of materials, contamination, and non-fiber components that a paper mill can normally handle, CPI aims to advise designers on how to make their products easier to recycle.

According to CPI, “components such as laminates, coatings, inks, varnishes, and adhesives can be problematic, and the Paper Industry recommends that they are limited to a maximum of 10% of pack weight.” The non-fiber components of packaging can decrease the efficiency of the machinery and lead to lower quality products. It has also been shown that these contaminants can increase the quantity, and thus migration, of non-intentionally added substances in recycled paper products (FPF reported). CPI would like it if no more than 5% of a product was non-fiber but acknowledges that “this is an aspirational target and will likely take time to achieve as technology in cellulose fibre-based packaging improves.” 

Plastic components can be problematic and “papermakers would prefer all plastics be minimized.” Packaging such as “coffee cups, cold cups, beverage cartons, oven-ready meal trays, or other laminated products can be reprocessed if collected and presented in baled form to mills that can handle them” but for standard paper mills these products often must be removed. For the purposes of paper recycling, it makes no difference whether the plastic component is biodegradable.  

To improve recyclability CPI suggests, in order of preference, to (i) remove or reduce plastic components, (ii) design the component to be removable by the consumer, along with a call-to-action to do so, (iii) make any plastic easily detectable in the recycling process, and (iv) make it minimally impactful to the machinery and environment.  

Packaging designers may be assisted by the circularity guide for standard paper mills that 4evergreen published in early 2022. The guide is split into sections based on the non-fiber components of packaging, e.g. coatings, adhesives. Within each subsection 4evergreen has a table listing many of the options a designer has for a component and a rating of whether the option is compatible with the standard recycling process. For example, a paper product maybe be coated by dipping in wax – which is not compatible with standard recycling processes – or by a plastic laminate that is removable by consumers – which has no impact on recycling once separated.

4evergreen plans to publish two more guides detailing the capabilities of deinking mills and specialized recycling mills later in 2022.

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WHO report on potential human health implications of microplastics
World Health Organization (WHO) report assesses human exposure to micro- and nanoplastics via inhalation and diet as well as potential health implications; finds available data of limited use for risk assessment
Lisa Zimmermann, Food Packaging Forum

On August 30, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report summarizing the scientific knowledge on human exposure to micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) and potential associated health risks. As a follow-up to the WHO report on microplastics in drinking water published in 2019 (FPF reported), the organization assembled an international group of experts to review the available data published up to December 2021 to work on this new report.

Topics discussed in the article include (i) human exposure to plastic particles present in food, beverages, drinking water, and air; (ii) impacts on human health considering exposure, toxicity, and occurrence data; (iii) option to reduce exposure; and (iv) knowledge gaps and research recommendations.

Concerning foods and beverages, the article summarizes in which consumables microplastics have been detected  including fish (FPF reported), seafood (FPF reported), salt (FPF reported), sugar, honey (FPF reported), milk, and drinking water (FPF reported and here), and also provides the numbers and characteristics of particles detected by the reviewed studies. Outcomes of MNP ingestion are assumed to be similar to other well-studied insoluble particles, including the generation of reactive oxygen species and induction of an inflammatory response. Most of the reviewed studies suggested MNP contamination in foodstuff originates from environmental contamination (e.g., fish taking up microplastics), is deposited onto the food from the air, or stems from manufacturing or processing. Only recently has food packaging also been discussed as a relevant exposure source (FPF reported and here). The authors recommend conducting more research on MNP sources and characteristics to develop effective measures to reduce exposure. In particular, “more research on the role of plastic packaging should be conducted for quantitative assessment.” To estimate dietary exposure levels standardized analytical methods would need to be developed that are also suitable to detect particles < 10 µm.

Generally, the authors recommend developing standard methods to generate more robust data since they found that “the available data are of only very limited use for assessing the risk of MNP to humans” which was to a great part due to the heterogeneity of the methods applied in scientific studies. Another identified limitation is that exposure studies rarely look at particles < 10 µm while effect studies focus on exactly this size leading to a mismatch. Therefore, the authors express the need to better study exposure to particles < 10 µm.

Although the report concluded that “the limited data provide little evidence that MNPs have adverse effects in humans… measures should be taken to mitigate exposure” since stakeholders would agree that plastics should not be present in the environment. To this aim, the use of plastics should be reduced, waste management improved, as well as the release of MNPs from plastic products prevented.



World Health Organization (2022). “Dietary and inhalation exposure to nano- and microplastic particles and potential implications for human health.


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