In Our Stores: PCC’s new packaging initiative
by Trudy Bialic
This article was originally published in October 2018
PCC adopted new packaging standards in April 2017 to establish guidelines and accountability for the packaging we use for the foods we make and sell. Our standards are based on a belief that we have a fundamental responsibility as a consumer-owned food purveyor to choose the safest possible packaging for consumer food contact — and for the environment.
These new guidelines help reduce carbon emissions, decrease waste from our business to landfills and incinerators, and minimize the release and bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals in the environment and in our bodies.
This initiative is still a work in progress and we hope it will continue to evolve and serve as a model to drive demand for safer products. Once we have our own packaging in order, we’ll focus on pushing our concerns up the supply chain, just as we do with other standards at PCC. This is how we move the market.
As with all standards, the designations below may change over time, as information warrants.
For more insights into the process of how we’re trying to move the needle, see our Sustainability Report on petroleum-free package testing here.
Whenever possible, we will give priority in the following order to:
- Cannot have plastic coating
- Unbleached is best
- Forest Stewardship Council-certified is best
Compostable PLA plastic
- Cannot be recycled. If put in recycling, PLA fouls the load and it will be diverted to a landfill.
Note: PLA may be marked as a plastic #7 but is still a best choice (see below for more information).
Best choice rationale:
Composting has a higher environmental value than recycling because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions from organic material in landfills. In aerobic composting, microorganisms reportedly convert PLA into water, carbon dioxide and biomass — with no chemical leftovers and no methane emissions. Both paper and PLA are made from renewable resources and are compostable.
Compostable packaging with food debris simplifies disposal. No rinsing or washing is required for composting.
PLA plastic does not require phthalates in manufacturing like other plastics, making it a safer choice for consumers and the environment. PCC’s participation in the Working Landscapes Certificate program has offset our use of PLA made from pooled GE corn. Farmers are subsidized to switch from GE corn to traditional non-GE corn, and to use more sustainable growing methods without high hazard pesticides, such as atrazine and neonicotinoids. The Clean Production Action Plastics Scorecard reports no chemicals of high concern in PLA.
Use with caution
Acceptable in order of preference, as long as best practices are followed.
#2 HDPE plastic (high density polyethylene)
- Considered low risk and the best of the plastic choices
- For use when we must store food or liquid in plastic
#4 LDPE (low density polyethylene) plastic
- Similar to #2 HDPE, considered to be a “safer” option
#5 PP (polypropylene) plastic
- Do not store or heat food or liquids in #5 for long periods of time.
- “Microwavable/dishwasher safe” means only that the plastic will not warp when heated. This label does not imply these are healthy practices.
- Some studies find that PP plastic leaches chemicals.
#1 PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic
- PETE is okay only for one-time, single use. Studies have found estrogenic chemicals leach from PETE plastic. If reused, cleaning detergents, varying PH levels, and heat can increase leaching. #1 is the least “acceptable with caution” plastic; #2, #4 and #5 are better wherever possible.
Rationale and best practices:
Recycling is not always reliable. It is only as good as the market demands and when demand is off, recyclable plastics go to landfills, making them less environmentally friendly than compostable PLA.
Most plastics have estrogenic properties, so all cooked foods should be cooled completely before filling plastic containers. Plastics must be stored away from heat or light that will accelerate breakdown and migration of plasticizers into contents, especially with foods containing fats or oils.
These materials bioaccumulate in the environment and the food chain.
#3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic
- One of the most toxic plastics. PVC is made with phthalates and contains the phthalate DEHP. Phthalates can cause males in many species to feminize, causing genital deformations, cancer and infertility. Scientists believe that humans are similarly affected.
#6 polystyrene plastic
- Made from petroleum. Conventional styrene (aka Styrofoam) is banned in Seattle.
- Long-term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause neurotoxic (fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping), hematological (low platelet and hemoglobin values), cytogenetic (chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities) and carcinogenic effects.
- Classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Known to leach into food, especially when exposed to hot temperatures.
#7 Other plastic
(Note: PLA plastic may be marked #7 but still is a “Best Choice” as explained previously)
- A catch-all designation for combinations of resins and difficult to know what’s in them. May or may not contain bisphenol-A or bisphenol-S.
- Polycarbonate #7. Polycarbonate is made of repeating units of bisphenol A, which has been shown to leach from the plastic during use and is susceptible to scratching.
Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
- Studies show that PFAS are hormone disruptors that damage reproduction and development and are especially toxic to the liver and kidneys.
- A Washington state law passed in 2018 will prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of PFAS in food packaging if added intentionally in any amount. This prohibition takes effect January 1, 2021, as long as the Department of Ecology identifies that a safer alternative is available.
- All bisphenols share a common chemical structure and emit estrogenic properties that may be harmful to consumers.
- PCC has prohibited bisphenol-A in receipt tapes since 2010 and other bisphenols (BPS, P, PF, BP, PE, PB and DP) in receipts since 2014.
- Contains D4, a chemical used as a feedstock in production of silicone polymers. Classified as a hormone disruptor by the European Union.
Trudy Bialic is PCC’s director of public affairs & quality standards.