- Company eliminating PFAS in packaging materials by 2025
- Public health advocates urge the company to act by 2022 and call on Burger King and Wendy’s to follow suit
International fast-food giant McDonald’s today announced a new global sustainable packaging commitment, banning the class of toxic chemicals per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from guest packaging materials. The company stated: “We’re proud to take another step in our product stewardship journey with our commitment to remove all added fluorinated compounds from our guest packaging materials globally by 2025.” The company also disclosed it has already eliminated BPA, BPS, and phthalates in its guest packaging.
This follows a national campaign led by the Mind the Store campaign and partners in key cities and states across the country after test results indicated the use of PFAS in packaging for the widely sold Big Mac.
McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world, serving an average of 25 million customers daily. With annual revenue of $21B in 2019, there are more than 38,000 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide.
“Because McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world, this action will help drive PFAS out of food packaging,” explains Mind the Store Campaign Director Mike Schade. “Over the last year, tens of thousands of McDonald’s customers have raised their voices calling on the company to act on this. We appreciate McDonald's taking this important action and heeding our call. However, four years is far too long for their customers and frontline communities to continue to be polluted by these unnecessary forever chemicals. We urge McDonald's to phase these chemicals out by 2022 and ensure substitutes are safe and reusable. Other major fast-food chains like Burger King and Wendy's should join them in driving PFAS out of food packaging."
“I’m so glad that McDonald’s decided to do the right thing,” said Brenda Hampton who started a Change.org petition with the Mind the Store campaign urging the company to stop using PFAS in its packaging. “Members of my community are suffering after drinking PFAS-polluted water. And the plant that contaminated our community makes PFAS for food packaging. These chemicals don’t belong in our water and they don’t belong in food packaging.”
“The science indicates that exposure to PFAS can damage our immune response, raise cholesterol, and cause other health problems,” said Toxic-Free Future Science Director Erika Schreder. “These toxic chemicals last forever in the environment and contaminate drinking water. Especially now, as we fight a pandemic, we need to minimize exposures to toxic chemicals like PFAS that can make us more vulnerable to Covid-19 and its complications.”
“McDonald’s announcement today is welcome progress as we work to end unnecessary uses of ‘forever’ chemicals that poison communities across the country and around the world,” said Safer Chemicals Healthy Families Director Liz Hitchcock. “We urge Congress to take further action to protect our families by quickly passing the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act (H.R. 2727), soon to be re-introduced by Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell.”
“While this is a positive step in the right direction for McDonald’s, Washington, New York, and Maine all have state bans set to take effect by the end of 2022, and we anticipate more states to follow in this year’s legislative sessions,” explains Safer States National Director Sarah Doll. “McDonald’s timeline needs to speed up to align with these state mandates.”
“We’re happy to see McDonald’s take this important step to protect consumers from chemical toxicants in food packaging,” said Christy Spees, investor representative from As You Sow. “With the wide range of possible toxic chemicals consumers come into contact with every day, it’s critical that the company remain vigilant in monitoring and reducing chemical risk.”
“The CDC states that some studies show PFAS exposure may affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children, in addition to other health effects,” said Tracy Gregoire, Healthy Children Project Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “There are safer alternatives to these harmful forever chemicals, and we are thrilled that McDonald’s is joining a growing number of quick-service restaurants.”
PFAS are chemicals used to impart stain, grease, and water resistance to food packaging, carpeting, upholstery, and apparel. Scientists have found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems. A consortium of scientists recently published a new scientific statement emphasizing the dangerous health impacts of PFAS and other toxic chemicals in food packaging, noting how easily these chemicals migrate out of packaging. Toxic exposures continue even after the packaging is disposed of. Evidence shows that these chemicals can make their way back to people through drinking water, food, and air. Food crops and gardens can become polluted with PFAS-containing compost, as shown from research demonstrating plants taking up PFAS from soil. Scientists often refer to PFAS as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment.
McDonald’s new commitment comes less than six months after the publication of a recent study, Packaged in Pollution: Are food chains using PFAS in packaging?, which analyzed packaging from six food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. The testing suggested toxic PFAS treatment of a McDonald’s “Big Mac” container, french fry bag, and cookie bag. Over a million Big Mac boxes are used and discarded each day.
Since the test results were released in August, more than 70,000 people from across the country have taken action and signed petitions calling on McDonald’s CEO to ban PFAS in food packaging. The Change.org petition to McDonald’s also explains the damage these chemicals have caused in communities like Decatur, Alabama where PFAS is made for food packaging. In the fall, advocates visited dozens of McDonald’s locations around the country, telling the company: “We’re not lovin’ it!” And in November 2020, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the Arc, and learning and developmental disabilities organizations in more than 20 states sent McDonald’s a letter calling on the company to ban PFAS in food packaging. Investors also echoed consumer concerns, filing a shareholder resolution in December which asked the company to disclose its actions to address the possible public health and environmental impacts of toxic materials in food packaging.
Some state and local governments are moving to phase out classes of toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and phthalates, from food packaging 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 January 1, 2022, or as soon as safer alternatives are available. Maine’s new law also prohibits the use of phthalates in food packaging and food handling gloves effective January 1, 2022. And, most recently, New York’s Governor signed a bill banning the use of PFAS in food packaging which takes effect at the end of 2022. Federal legislation to ban PFAS in food packaging, the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act, has been introduced by U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell.
As part of Mind the Store’s research for its annual retailer report card, it was found that top food retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies to reduce and eliminate harmful chemicals. Over the past two years, Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons, Amazon.com, Cava, Chipotle, Freshii, Kroger, Panera Bread, Sweetgreen, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods Market announced steps to reduce or eliminate certain toxic chemicals in food packaging at their more than 17,000 stores.
Mind The Store Campaign
The national Mind the Store campaign challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. The campaign publishes the annual retailer report card that benchmarks and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies and implementation programs. The fifth annual report will be released in the first quarter of 2021. For more information, visit www.mindthestore.org and www.retailerreportcard.org
Toxic-Free Future advocates for the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through advanced research, grassroots organizing, and consumer engagement to ensure a healthier tomorrow. For more information, visit www.toxicfreefuture.org.