California Bans PFAS in Paper-Based Food Packaging

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Governor Newsom signs AB 1200 requiring disclosure for use of toxic chemicals in cookware

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law today banning the use of the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in paper-based food packaging and to require disclosure of toxic substances in cookware.

The bill, AB 1200, known as the California Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act of 2021 and authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will protect consumers and the environment from PFAS and other harmful chemicals by:

  • Banning paper-based food packaging using PFAS chemicals starting January 1, 2023
  • Requiring cookware manufacturers starting January 1, 2024, to disclose the presence of chemicals in their products that are of concern for human health or the environment
  • Prohibiting misleading advertising on cookware packaging as early as January 1, 2023

Cosponsors of the legislation include Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Water Action, Environmental Working Group and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

“Most people don’t realize there are PFAS in everyday items including food packaging. PFAS is a massive global public health issue. It is imperative that we stop adding to the problem, and eliminate PFAS use wherever possible,” said Avinash Kar, director of state health policy for NRDC. “California will do just that by banning the unnecessary use of PFAS in paper-based food packaging.”

PFAS are widely used in paper-based food packaging made from plant fibers, such as cardboard, for their water and grease resistant properties. Examples of food packaging that often contain PFAS include paper wraps, liners, bags, sleeves, dinnerware (plates, bowls, trays), and takeout containers made of molded fiber. The chemicals can migrate from the packaging into our food, contaminate soil when the packaging is composted, and pose contamination risks for water systems when the material is landfilled.  

The removal of these toxic chemicals will help protect the workers making these products, the consumers using them, the communities living near their production or disposal, and vulnerable populations already bearing a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution.

“PFAS chemicals should not be used in materials that touch our food because they persist in the environment and human body, and have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, organ damage, and other severe diseases and can interfere with vaccine response,” said Sue Chiang, pollution prevention director for the Center for Environmental Health. “The Center for Environmental Health has spent 25 years protecting people from toxic chemicals and are proud to have co-sponsored AB1200 to help create a healthier world for us all.”

The bill also requires cookware manufacturers to disclose chemicals of concern, such as PFAS and bisphenol A, or BPA, and other substances on the California Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Candidate Chemical List, if they are added either to surfaces that come into contact with food or drink or to handles. The disclosure must be available online starting January 1, 2023, and January 1, 2024, on the product label.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding information about the chemicals in their products. Breast cancer survivors and new moms work extra hard to avoid chemicals that could contribute to a re-occurrence of cancer or harm the development of their children” said Nancy Buermeyer, Senior Policy Strategist for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. “This groundbreaking law will help consumers make educated decisions about their purchases and avoid harmful chemicals.”

"Consumers have for too long been kept in the dark about PFAS and other chemicals in their cookware that could enter their food, and they are often misled about cooking products' safety. AB 1200 imposes a first-ever requirement that cookware manufacturers disclose harmful chemicals present in the surface coatings of pots, pans, and other products, and the bill will curb the use of false safety claims on packaging,” said Susan Little, senior advocate for the Environmental Working Group.

The bill also sets deadlines starting January 1, 2023, to prohibit misleading advertising on cookware -- such as claims that a product is free of a specific hazardous chemical when other chemicals from the same class are present. Such claims can mislead buyers into believing a product is free of problematic chemicals. For instance, pans claiming to be “PFOA free” often contain other harmful PFAS chemicals like PTFE.

“The insidious thing about PFAS is that we are not only exposed by using products that contain them, but we are re-exposed when these chemicals get into our water, air, soil, and crops,” said Andria Ventura, legislative and policy director at Clean Water Action. “Since food packaging is a major source of litter in water and can contaminate compost, our precious water resources and food are at risk. That’s why AB 1200 is so important.”  

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Since the organization’s founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking, and people power to the table. www.cleanwater.org

Andria Ventura
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