October 26, 2020
In our most recent article, we talked about what’s real in regard to compostable, recycle-ready, and biodegradable packaging. In this month’s article, we continue the discussion about real ways to enhance the sustainability of packaging. One of the ways you can make an impact today is by eliminating harmful chemicals from your packaging.
Lead and Heavy Metals
Previously, we covered holistic sustainability and the three pillars of sustainability: People, Profit, and Planet. Harmful chemical elimination falls under the People pillar. We need to ensure the products we sell and packaging we use do not adversely impact the product inside and the consumers of that product.
There have been numerous examples of where that wasn’t the case. High-profile recalls in recent years due to lead in paint on children’s toys come to mind. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) posts recalls for products that could expose children to lead on their website. Lead has also been found in packaging.
Lead is not the only harmful metal that can find its way into products and their packaging. The Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG) passed legislation in 19 states governing lead, cadmium, mercury, and hexavalent chromium levels in packaging. This legislation has become the model limiting the concentration and prohibiting the addition of these heavy metals to packaging materials. Many consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) require their packaging suppliers to comply with this legislation even outside the 19 states that have the laws on their books. You will want to pay particular attention to the potential for packaging to contain these heavy metals at elevated levels if it’s coming from overseas where regulation and enforcement are not as developed as in the United States or Europe. Due to the supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 earlier in the year, some companies that had been purchasing their packaging offshore have started sourcing in the United States instead to reduce risk in the supply chain. This “onshoring” movement could have the added benefit of mitigating the heavy metals risk as well.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is another chemical that has garnered negative national attention. Most of us have likely heard of this chemical from the push for legislation to outlaw it from being used in baby bottles due to the concern that it can disrupt the endocrine system of children. BPA was primarily used as a plasticizer in rigid plastics such as polycarbonate and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to make those plastics less brittle. BPA was also used in epoxy coatings as can liners for products such as soups and other canned foods.
BPA can build up in the human body, and because BPA is chemically similar to hormones like estrogen, the fear is that BPA and other similar ‘endocrine disruptors’ could affect the natural development of children.
BPA is not prohibited by the FDA (other than for baby bottles and coatings used in packages for infant formula) because the scientific studies have not shown a direct correlation to causing these issues at the low concentrations found in food packaged in plastics containing BPA. However, the public backlash has been so fierce that most companies now avoid using packaging that contains BPA.
In terms of legislation against harmful chemicals, arguably one of the most widely recognized (and controversial) pieces of legislation is California’s Proposition 65 (Prop 65). Prop 65 is the reason some packages contain the warning “this product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”
Prop 65 contains a list of those chemicals, now numbering over 900, and by law must be updated at least annually. If a product is sold in California and contains a chemical on that list, the package must bear that warning “unless the exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk of cancer or is significantly below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Failing to put the warning on the package exposes the seller of the product to stiff fines. Who wants to put that warning on their packaging? Many companies choose to eliminate the chemical, if at all possible, rather than do the testing to prove the concentration in the packaging is below the No Significant Risk Level.
Polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), more commonly known as Saran™, is a common clear barrier coating used in flexible packaging (e.g., Saran™ coated polyester). Vinylidene chloride is the primary building block to make PVDC, and residual amounts can remain in the PVDC coating or film. Vinylidene chloride is now on the Prop 65 list. As a result, some companies have looked for alternative clear barrier materials such as films containing ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) or aluminum oxide (AlOX) coated films.
PVDC is also falling out of favor in packaging because it contains chlorine. When burned, the chlorine atoms that are released into the atmosphere can attack the ozone layer. Other plastics that contain chlorine in their structure, such as PVC, are also viewed negatively, and companies often choose alternative options. Outlook Group can help you with choosing between the various film options to address these environmental concerns.
Hopefully, all that chemistry talk didn’t put you to sleep! In order to make your packaging more sustainable, it’s important to choose packaging options that eliminate harmful chemicals. Please check out our next article that will discuss how downgauging can help you make your packaging more sustainable too.
Navigating the regulatory and sustainability requirements for packaging can be tricky. Outlook Group can help guide you to the correct materials that eliminate harmful chemicals from your packaging. Please give us a call to discuss how we can help you with enhancing the sustainability of your packaging!