PFAS in Packaging: Health Effects, Laws, Best Practices

PFAS in Packaging: Health Effects, Laws, Best Practices

Amid growing concerns surrounding environmental sustainability and public health, the presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in packaging materials has emerged as a critical issue.

PFAS are popular for their water- and grease-resistant properties. As such, manufacturers commonly use them in industrial applications, cosmetics, and, most importantly, food packaging. Consumers regularly interact with these substances, so there are natural concerns about their potential environmental and health effects.

Understanding what PFAS chemicals in packaging are can help brands mitigate risks and ensure compliance with relevant regulations. This article explores how businesses can make better-informed decisions about PFAS in their packaging.

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What Are PFAS?

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals that businesses commonly use to maintain product freshness and prevent water damage. They act as a barrier against moisture and grease, especially during transportation and storage.

Given these benefits, it’s no surprise why these substances are common in daily materials. What packaging has PFAS?

  • Fast food wrappers
  • Microwavable bags
  • Oil-resistant cardboard
  • Takeout containers
  • Paper, plant-based, and plastic straws
  • Bakery paper
  • Non-stick sheets
  • Disposable cups and plates

These use cases demonstrate how prevalent PFAS is in packaging, especially for food products. They’re also indestructible—in fact, experts have dubbed them “The Forever Chemicals” as they take thousands of years to break down.

Thus, businesses must stay aware of these chemicals to help them address safety and regulatory concerns within their supply chains. Awareness of PFAS encourages them to adopt alternative packaging solutions, minimize reliance on potentially harmful chemicals, and align with evolving consumer preferences.

The Health Effects of PFAS Exposure in Packaging

A primary worry about PFAS’ health effects is their carcinogenicity. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a well-studied PFAS, has recently been classified as a carcinogen. Moreover, a 2013 study found that people living near or working in PFAS-related chemical plants are at high risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

pfas health effects

PFAS also interferes with the immune system. For instance, researchers studied plasma samples from over 300 people infected with COVID-19 in 2020, some of which had elevated levels of PFAS like perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA). They found that people with high PFBA levels were at risk of more severe COVID-19 infections. Other adverse health effects of high PFAS concentrations in the body include:

  • Increased cholesterol
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Birth weight decreases
  • Poor antibody response to some vaccines
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia

Unfortunately, nearly everyone in the US has PFAS in their blood, albeit in varying concentrations. Children are likely to get it as they chew on PFAS-containing toys or fabric and consume formula with PFAS-contaminated water.

PFAS Blood Levels in People Over Time (United States)
Image Source: CDC / ATSDR

On a positive note, the levels of certain PFAS in the blood are rapidly declining in the US population. PFOS levels dropped by over 85% from 1999 to 2017, while perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) decreased by over 70%. The Vermont DOH also assures that PFOA levels decrease when consumers stop exposure to contaminated materials.

The Environmental Impact of PFAS in Packaging

One of the most significant ecological challenges PFAS pose is their persistence in the environment. They take up to thousands of years to degrade, posing risks to wildlife and ecosystems. The US doesn’t manufacture PFOA and PFOS any longer, but their environmental remnants—plus overseas production and importation—keep animals and humans exposed.

PFAS also exhibit bioaccumulative properties, or the ability to build up in the tissues of living organisms, especially within aquatic ecosystems. For instance, a PFAS-contaminated salmon gets exposed after eating contaminated krill, which extends to the human that eats the salmon. As tertiary consumers who eat plants, predators, and prey, humans often bear the brunt of bioaccumulation.

pfas food warning

Furthermore, PFAS leach from packaging materials and into the soil and water sources. Improper disposal or recycling of PFAS-containing packaging releases these chemicals into the environment, where they persist and accumulate over time. Then, they migrate through soil and groundwater, contaminating plants, water sources, and entire ecosystems.

These phenomena emphasize the importance of adopting sustainable alternatives to PFAS-containing materials. By reducing reliance on these harmful chemicals, brands can minimize their ecological footprint, especially in packaging. 

The Regulatory Landscape of PFAS in Packaging

The Biden-Harris Administration launched a plan in 2021 to combat PFAS pollution in the US. One output is when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) condemned and ordered Inhance Technologies LLC to halt its production of PFAS, a byproduct of its plastic container manufacturing process. This initiative has set a valuable precedent in combating PFAS production nationwide.

pfas regulation worldwide

Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) effort to trigger a voluntary market phase-out of food packaging with PFAS concluded in February 2024, with manufacturers halting the sale of these materials. Before, manufacturers liberally used PFAS as grease-proofing substances for fast food wrappers, microwavable bags, and cardboard containers.

On top of these efforts, individual states have also enacted PFAS laws to regulate and outright ban the use of these chemicals in consumer product packaging. These jurisdictions include:


Assembly Bill No. 1200 prohibits the distribution and sale of food packaging containing PFAS. Manufacturers must replace these chemicals with the least toxic alternatives. Furthermore, cookware manufacturers that intentionally add PFAS must state their presence on the handle or any part that comes in contact with food.


The Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals Consumer Protection Act prohibits selling and distributing products containing PFAS. In addition to food packaging, the law covers carpets, fabric treatments, children’s products, and oil and gas products. Like California, Colorado also mandates that cookware manufacturers list an item’s PFAS content on product handles or any part that touches food.


Starting January 2025, Amara’s Law will prohibit selling and distributing products with intentionally added PFAS, including cookware, cosmetics, fabric treatments, and cleaning products. It begins gradual enforcement in January 2025, with the total ban taking effect in January 2032. Amara Strande, the law’s namesake, died in 2023 from a rare liver cancer she developed from drinking PFAS-contaminated water.

New York

The state amended the Hazardous Packaging Act to restrict the sale of food packaging with intentionally added PFAS. The prohibited packaging and components include paper, cardboard, and plant-based materials like cups, trays, wrappers, and bags. However, it doesn’t cover glass, metal, or plastic.


SB 0573 proposes prohibiting the sale and distribution of packaging with intentionally added PFAS and other dangerous chemicals, including mercury, lead, and formaldehyde. As of March 6, 2024, the bill is on the Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee for further review.

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5 Best Practices for Mitigating PFAS Exposure from Packaging

The following sustainable packaging practices can help companies reduce reliance on PFAS-containing materials and promote safer alternatives within their industries.

food packaging

1. Supplier evaluation and transparency

Bad supplier practices significantly impact a company’s image. As such, business owners should partner with suppliers committed to being PFAS-free and communicating their products’ chemical composition. For instance, they could request detailed information from suppliers about the presence of PFAS in their materials to verify their compliance with regulatory standards.

Another way to determine whether a supplier is PFAS-free is by their certifications. Some of the most common credentials for companies that don’t use and produce PFAS-containing materials include:

2. Alternative material selection

Exploring alternative packaging materials that don’t contain PFAS is a proactive approach to mitigating exposure. Materials like glass and metal are viable replacements, so business owners should consider them when sourcing. The move might be costly, but keeping staff and customers safe and complying with increasingly stringent regulations is miles better than the alternative.

Even some of the biggest brands worldwide are making the switch. Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which owns Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes, committed to phasing out intentionally added PFAS from their packaging materials by 2025 or sooner. Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Wendy’s also did the same.

3. Risk assessment and monitoring

Companies should establish protocols for identifying potential sources of PFAS contamination and assessing the associated risks. While packaging suppliers and internal production have eliminated PFAS from their operations, are other parts of the supply chain doing the same?

Business owners may conduct inspections, analyze product packaging material samples, and collaborate with experts to assess potential exposure pathways. They can also establish monitoring protocols to track PFAS residues in packaging materials and assess any changes. Ultimately, these efforts can help companies minimize contamination and protect the health and safety of their stakeholders.

4. Employee training and awareness

PFAS affect employees before consumers, so companies should educate their staff about these chemicals’ potential health and environmental impacts. They should also receive training to minimize workplace exposure, covering topics like proper handling, storage, and disposal of PFAS-containing materials.

Furthermore, businesses must establish procedures for reporting PFAS-related concerns or incidents. Workers can actively mitigate exposure-related risks, creating a safer and more compliant work environment.

5. Collaboration and advocacy

Engaging in industry collaborations and advocacy efforts is critical for promoting PFAS-free practices, especially in packaging use. Take ChemSec’s PFAS movement, for example. This collaboration between H&M, Ralph Lauren, Fjallraven, and other rising and well-known brands to eliminate PFAS in their products and supply chains has triggered a global advocacy against these harmful chemicals.

Similarly, companies should join associations that promote stricter regulations and transparency regarding the use of PFAS in packaging. Together, they can drive meaningful change and accelerate the world’s transition to PFAS-free packaging solutions.

Keep Staff, Customers, and the Environment Safe

PFAS remain a significant concern among companies, consumers, and environmental activists. Fortunately, as awareness about these chemicals’ adverse health and ecological effects grows, so do global movements fighting against their use. 

Business owners have a crucial role in this advocacy. By adopting sustainable packaging practices, they demonstrate their commitment to responsible corporate citizenship while helping create a safer, healthier future for all.

Learn more about your retail product packaging needs from Meyers, a leading sustainable packaging manufacturer and label supplier. We can help you implement compliant, safe, and sustainable packaging solutions. Contact the Meyers team of experts to learn more!