Amazon Announces Ban on Certain Toxic Chemicals and Plastics in Food Packaging

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Amazon has joined a growing trend of companies eliminating toxic chemicals in food packaging. PFAS, phthalates, BPA are among the dangerous chemicals Amazon Kitchen brands now prohibit.

According to a recent press release, the company said it was banning certain toxic chemicals and plastics in the food packaging materials used for its Amazon Kitchen brand. Toxic chemicals will now be restricted in certain private-label food contact materials. Amazon’s new commitment is the latest update to the chemicals policy it first launched in 2018, limiting toxic chemicals in private-label baby, household cleaning, personal care, and beauty products, as well as brand-name paint-removal products. Mind the Store Campaign Director Mike Schade said in response to the announcement:

“Amazon’s new policy commitment signals a growing retail sustainability trend […] in the past year alone, we’ve witnessed more than a half-dozen food retailers from across the country committing to safer alternatives when it comes to food packaging materials. It is possible to do, and yet some major chains like McDonald’s, Kroger, and Costco have not stood up for the health of their customers or the environment.”

Persistent, Bio-accumulative, and Toxic

Amazon’s definition of chemicals of concern includes substances that are a “carcinogen, mutagen, reproductive or another systemic toxicant,” and products that are “persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic.” Although Amazon has mentioned it is encouraging manufacturers to avoid these potentially toxic chemicals, the company focuses on its private brands because it has complete control over them.

It is important to note that Amazon is eliminating PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which are known as forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and can build up in the human body. PFAS chemicals have often been used as a coating on the packaging for food products, such as cardboard and paper wrappers.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS may cause cancer, thyroid hormone disruption, low birth weight in infants, high cholesterol levels, and adverse effects on the immune system. Besides, PFAS may cause developmental, reproductive, kidney, and liver problems. Some of the substances on the restricted lists have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, pregnancy complications, hormone disruption, and developmental problems in children. Some also harm the environment, such as soil contamination. Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of Defend Our Health, said: 

“Market leaders like Amazon know that children thrive on healthy food that’s free from toxic chemicals that escape from packaging […] further reducing the use of chemicals like phthalates and PFAS that may harm brain development could help halt the epidemic of learning and developmental disabilities our children already suffer.”

Presence of PFAS

Amazon’s new restricted substance list (RSL) applies to its Amazon Kitchen brand products sold in Amazon Go, Amazon Go Grocery, Amazon Fresh stores, and Fresh grocery delivery, but not to other private labels or Amazon brand food contact materials. This comes five months after a class action was filed alleging the presence of PFAS in Amazon private label disposable plates, a product not included in the new restrictions.

The list also includes perchlorate, benzophenone, lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and the solvents NMP (N-Methylpyrrolidone), 2-Ethoxyethanol, 2-Methoxyethanol, and toluene. In addition to PVC, PS and EPS, Amazon said it’s prohibiting the following non-recyclable plastics in its food contact packaging: polycarbonates (PC), polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), rigid polylactic acid (PLA), and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

In 2020, Amazon faced a class-action lawsuit over using PFAS in its Amazon Kitchen brand products, including disposable plates and bowls. The lawsuit alleged that Amazon was selling the items with labels that they were compostable. PFAS is not considered compostable because it does not break down in the soil. Although the lawsuit was dropped, the company moved forward with eliminating PFAS from its products.  

Amazon is part of a growing trend to eliminate toxic chemicals from food packaging and other products that consumers use regularly. Considering the potential health and environmental effects of using chemicals of concern, this is a significant trend.

Safer Alternatives

Some state and local governments are moving to phase out toxic chemicals in food packagings, such as PFAS and phthalates, in favor of safer alternatives. Over the past two years, Washington and Maine have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging that go into effect on January 1, 2022, or as soon as safer alternatives are available. Maine’s new law also prohibits using phthalates in food packaging and food handling gloves effective January 1, 2022. And, most recently, New York’s Governor signed a bill banning PFAS in food packaging, which takes effect at the end of 2022.

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