Single Use Foodware

Why it Matters

For decades, chemicals have been added to microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, fast food wrappers, plates, bowls, food trays, take-out containers and other food packaging to make them water and grease resistant. These chemicals of concern have been shown to migrate out of foodware and into our food

This toxic family of “nonstick” fluorinated substances, also known as per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and have been linked to a range of health concerns including adverse effects on growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children, a lowered chance of a woman getting pregnant, increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of cancer, and changes in hormone functioning in adults as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children. Single-use products also create avoidable waste, deplete natural resources, and raise concerns about other toxic chemicals that pollute the environment and endanger human health.

You, among other public and private purchasers – such as federal, state and local government, schools, restaurants, cafeterias and hospitals – can help shift the market to better alternatives and get these extremely persistent PFAS chemicals out of foodware.

What We’re Doing

In 2018, CEH released a groundbreaking report – “Avoiding Hidden Hazards: A Purchaser’s Guide to Safer Foodware” – that identified a wide variety of disposable foodware products containing these toxic fluorinated chemicals. People can ingest PFAS through packaged food and even drinking water. Because they are used in manufacturing products, they can end up in our environment throughout their lifecycle – starting from production of the chemicals, the manufacturing and use of the products, to when the foodware is thrown out. And their chemical properties keep them from breaking down once they’re there, increasing the odds we end up consuming them. As part of the report, CEH tested single-use food serviceware and created a publicly available database which identifies products with high fluorine levels (indicating the likely use of PFAS) and which ones had no or low levels of fluorine. CEH’s report and other resources offers commercial and institutional purchasers PFAS-free foodware options and equips them with tools to move manufacturers away from these harmful compounds towards safer products.

By transitioning towards safer, readily available PFAS-free, sustainable foodware options in schools, restaurants, hospitals, and other institutions, we can protect public health, soil, crops, and groundwater resources while reducing plastic pollution that can linger in the environment for thousands of years. CEH penned an op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner in support of the city becoming the first in the country to ban PFAS in food packaging, prohibit the use of plastic straws, stirrers, and other single-use food packaging (which it did). And in January of 2019, The Berkeley City Council passed a disposable foodware ordinance that is the most ambitious municipal legislation in the U.S. aimed at reducing the use of single-use foodware.

CEH will continue to support efforts by localities to implement similar ordinances as San Francisco and Berkeley, relentlessly pressure manufacturers to end the use of these harmful compounds in their products and push them to offer consumers safe alternatives to single-use containers.

What You Can Do

By changing our behavior, and making our dollars do the talking through our purchasing power, brands that enact comprehensive, proactive policies to eliminate chemicals of concern from their packaging will not only be rewarded but better positioned both to deal with PFAS now, as well as the next emergent chemical of concern.

CEH has the resources needed to help organizations identify healthier and more environmentally preferable food service ware choices. By creating the demand for and purchasing these products, you can seize a valuable opportunity to improve your organization’s environmental footprint, protect your employees’ and visitors’ health, and broaden the market for safer products. Fortunately, there are healthier alternatives, and the demand and availability for these safer products continues to grow. CEH can offer technical assistance to help your organization implement this work. For more information on how to get started, please contact us at foodware@ceh.org

New Foodware Survey for K-12 Schools!

For those affiliated with K-12 schools: Please fill out our online survey to contribute to the body of information about current food service ware practices in K-12 schools around the country. 

Data collected from this survey will help CEH assist schools (including yours!) to transition to more sustainable foodware options. The results will be aggregated – your individual and organization’s information will not be shared or published.

Resources

CEH Report: Avoiding Hidden Hazards: A Purchaser’s Guide to Safer Foodware
CEH Database: Single-Use Foodware Public Database
CEH Infographic: Healthier Food Service Ware Choices
CEH/SPLC Resource: Purchasing Recommendations for Sustainable Food Service Ware
CEH FactSheet: Fluorinated Additives, Disposable Food, Containers, and Contaminated Food
CEH FactSheet: Polystyrene Foam, Disposable Food Containers, and Contaminated Food
CEH Webinar: Zero Waste & Better Health: Two Schools on a Journey to More Sustainable, Reusable Food-service Ware
CEH Webinar: Toxic Chemicals in Single-Use Food Service Ware: K-12 Schools’ Efforts Towards More Sustainable Alternatives
K-12 School Case Study: Palo Alto Unified School District’s Switch to Reusable Food Service Ware