The PFAS Movement: ChemSec leads consumer brands away from “forever chemicals”
23 Mar 2023 --- Yesterday, the EU began discussions on the upcoming ban of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” ChemSec, the environmental non-governmental organization, created an advocacy campaign called PFAS Movement, composed of over one hundred consumer brands that support a comprehensive chemical ban.
The campaign calls for comprehensive regulation of PFAS in the EU. Brands such as the H&M Group, Urbanears and The Cookware Company represent various industries, from fashion, home goods, food and personal care.
The conglomerate of the 108 companies are worth more than €130 billion (US$141.5 million).
“What we want to see from this legislation is a strict regulation of PFAS, as these substances are found everywhere, they will not degrade and have many different hazardous properties, justifying a comprehensive restriction, Jonatan Kleimark, senior chemicals and business advisor at ChemSec, tells PackagingInsights.
"The content of the restriction proposal clearly outlines the dire situation that we are in regarding PFAS, and the need to take action is apparent.”
Kleimark remarks that many companies ChemSec speaks to understand that PFAS is “very problematic for human health and the environment, and with that in mind, they want to take action.”
“Even though many of them are still using PFAS, taking a strong stand together is a great way to move forward to find alternatives and identify solutions to phase out PFAS. In addition, there is pressure, both from legislators and consumers, which is important to factor in.”
Kleimark says that there are both laggards and frontrunners in all sectors, and that is no different within the packaging industry regarding PFAS use.
“Packaging is an important industrial contributor to many other sectors, and therefore it is important that alternatives for PFAS uses are identified and implemented as soon as possible since the other sectors will demand this from their packaging suppliers,” he asserts.
ChemSec serves as a form of guidance for companies unsure how to move forward as legislation is implemented. The NGO aims to support their member companies in transitioning from PFAS use and advocate for their restriction.
Kleimark says that the general transition time for non-derogated uses of PFAS is 18 months, meaning that a ban may come as early as the end of 2026 or 2027. He explains that it may feel like a substantial amount of time, but in practice, it is not.
“The business of substitution is complex, involving identification of alternatives, implementation of new processes etc. And in many cases, the new processes (or products) will have to be verified and validated for the use at the customer side (the company ordering the packaging solution) which also can be a complex process.”
“Therefore, I would assume that there is a great urgency among many packaging companies to initiate these changes,” conveys Kleimark.
European wide ban
ChemSec calls the proposed EU ban on PFAS extensive and the first of its kind worldwide.
“A European ban on PFAS chemicals will have huge repercussions for all manufacturing industries and require much work for companies in the global supply chain,” says Anne-Sofie Bäckar, executive director at ChemSec.
“However, some parts of the industry oppose this ban, claiming that the change is too big to be justified. That’s why the support for a ban from such influential consumer brands as those in the PFAS Movement is so important. It’s a strong sign that businesses want to eliminate PFAS chemicals in products and processes.”
The idea was initially initiated by Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway. The countries have spent almost three years mapping the implications of a ban on PFAS chemicals in a dossier that expands over nearly 2,000 pages.
The proposal shows that PFAS emissions were 75,000 metric tons in 2020. If companies continue their use of PFAS at the same rate, the emissions are expected to sit at 4.4 million metric tons in 30 years.
The ECHA has added PFAS products to its list due to their destructive properties. It is possible to get rid of PFAS in all food packaging in the EU through the restriction of the whole PFAS group under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals.
By Sabine Waldeck
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