PCC adopted packaging standards in April 2017 to establish guidelines and accountability for the packaging we use for foods we make and sell. They’re based in 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 the environment.
These guidelines help reduce carbon emissions, waste from our business to landfills and incinerators, and the release and bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals in the environment and our bodies.
We hope this initiative will serve as a model for other food businesses and manufacturers and will help drive demand for safer products. Once we have our own packaging entirely 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.
Like all standards, the designations below may change over time, as information warrants.
- Cannot have plastic coating
- Unbleached is best
- Forest Stewardship Council-certified is best
Compostable PLA (polylactic acid) plastic
- Cannot be recycled; if put in recycling, PLA fouls the load and is diverted to landfill
- May be marked #7 but is a best choice (see below)
- Both paper and PLA are made from renewable resources and are commercially compostable.
- Composting has a higher environmental value than recycling because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions from organic material in landfills. In aerobic commercial composting, microorganisms reportedly convert PLA into water, carbon dioxide and biomass — with no chemical leftovers and no methane emissions.
- Compostable packaging with food debris simplifies disposal. No rinsing or washing required for composting.
- PLA plastic does not require phthalates in manufacturing like other plastics, making it a safer choice for consumers and the environment.
- The Plastics Scorecard reports no chemicals of high concern in PLA.
- PCC’s participation in the Working Landscapes Certificate program has offset our use of PLA made from pooled GE (Genetically Engineered) 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.
#2 HDPE plastic (high-density polyethylene)
- Considered low-risk and the best of the plastic choices.
- Use HDPE when we must store food or liquid in plastic.
#4 LDPE plastic (low-density polyethylene)
- Similar to #2 HDPE, considered a “safer” option.
#5 PP plastic (polypropylene)
- 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. It does not imply these are healthy practices.
- Some studies find PP plastic ware leaches at least two chemicals.
#1 PETE plastic (polyethylene terephthalate)
- 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:
- Most plastics have estrogenic properties, so staff must be trained to cool all cooked foods completely before filling plastic containers.
- Store plastics away from heat or light that will accelerate breakdown and migration of plasticizers into contents, especially with foods containing fats or oils.
- Recycling is not reliable, only as good as the spot market demand, which is not steady. When demand is off, recyclable plastics go to landfills, making them less environmentally friendly than compostable PLA.
#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic
- One of the most toxic plastics. 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 they cause similar effects in humans.
#6 Polystyrene plastic
- Made from petroleum, conventional styrene (aka Styrofoam) is banned in Seattle.
- The Foundation for Achievements in Science and Education fact sheet says 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 and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Known to leach into food. Temperature affects how much leaches.
#7 Other plastic
- A catch-all designation for combinations of resins, difficult to know what’s in them. May or may not contain bisphenol-A or bisphenol-S.
- Avoid polycarbonate #7
- Polycarbonate is made of repeating units of bisphenol A, which has been shown to leach from the plastic during use.
- Very susceptible to scratching.
- PLA plastic may be marked #7 but still is a “Best Choice” (as explained above)
- A class of chemicals used as additives to make plastics soft and pliable. Identified as reproductive and developmental toxicants.
- See March 2016 petition to the Food and Drug Administration, to prohibit 30 phthalates
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) a.k.a. perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)
- Studies show 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 a safer alternative.
- The literature indicates all bisphenols (A, AP, AF, B, BP, C, C2, E, F, G, M, S, P, PH, TMC, Z) share a common chemical structure and 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) since 2014.
Silicone or Quilon
- Contains D4, a chemical used as a feedstock in production of silicone polymers. Classified as a hormone disruptor by the European Union.
- Lead can be harmful to human health even at very low levels of exposure and can accumulate in the bloodstream. According to the FDA, there is no identified safe blood lead level.