(Olympia, WA) Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed the Healthy Food Packaging Act today, making Washington the first state in the nation to ban the use of harmful nonstick “PFAS” chemicals in paper food packaging, including in microwave popcorn bags and fast food and cupcake wrappers. The legislation, HB 2658, was sponsored by Rep. Joan McBride (D-Kirkland) and received bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate. 

PFASs are industrial chemicals used in nonstick coatings on food packaging like microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers, in stain-resistant and waterproof coatings on carpeting, furniture, and clothing, and in some firefighting foams and firefighting gear. 

Studies show the chemicals can move from the packaging into the food or, when the packaging is composted or landfilled, into compost and the environment. PFASs have been found in food, drinking water, humans, breast milk, fish, and waterways. Linked to cancer, liver toxicity, and other health effects, the chemicals are extremely persistent and can stay in the human body for as long as 8 years. 

Specifically the legislation:

  • Bans the use of PFAS chemicals in paper food packaging, like microwave popcorn bags, sandwich and butter wrappers, and french fry boxes, on January 1, 2022, as long as the Department of Ecology identifies that safer alternatives to PFASs are available by January 1, 2020.
  • If Ecology is not able to identify a safer alternative by January 1, 2020, then the ban does not go into effect and Ecology must review the availability of alternatives every year.
  • Once Ecology does identify a safer alternative, the ban goes into effect 2 years after the alternatives are identified.

“Harmful chemicals that don’t stay in food packaging, but contaminate food, people, and the environment should not be put in products on the market. We thank Governor Inslee for protecting our health and environment by keeping these chemicals away from our food and compost. Washington state is now a model for other states to follow,” said Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director, Toxic-Free Future.

In a 2016 study of over 300 food packaging materials, nearly 40% were treated with fluorine and likely contained PFASs. Recent testing of microwave popcorn bags found all bags likely contained PFASs chemicals. More information is available here.

The food packaging ban is one of two bans on fluorinated chemicals to pass the state legislature in the 2018 session. SB 6413 bans the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals. Firefighting foam is suspected of being the source of PFAS chemicals in residents’ drinking water in Coupeville, Airway Heights, and Issaquah. The bill is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature. 

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