Starbucks commits to eliminating PFAS from all U.S. packaging by the end of 2022, and international packaging in 2023

Toxic-Free Future and its Mind the Store program applaud this commitment and urge Congress to pass ban on PFAS in food packaging

SEATTLE, WA—On March 15, 2022, international coffee giant Starbucks announced its first-ever commitment to eliminate toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in its food packaging materials. As part of the company’s new sustainable packaging policy, the transition away from these dangerous chemicals in its food packaging materials will be complete in the U.S. by the end of 2022. Starbucks has more than 15,000 U.S. stores and 34,000 stores worldwide and is the second biggest quick-service restaurant chain in the U.S.

The company stated: “By the end of this year, we will have eliminated PFAS from all packaging in the U.S. and will eliminate PFAS globally in 2023.” 

Though the company’s announcement comes after similar commitments by other major restaurant chains, their timeline is faster than many—including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell that have made commitments to phase out PFAS in food packaging by 2025. Wendy’s made a commitment last year to phase out by the end of 2021.

Starbucks’ announcement follows Toxic-Free Future’s multi-year Mind the Store campaign to phase out PFAS from retail food packaging. Toxic-Free Future (TFF) published reports in 2018, 2019, and 2020 indicating the presence of PFAS in food packaging materials at major quick-service and grocery store chains. Last week, Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, announced a global ban on PFAS. In response to TFF’s campaign, 22 retailers selling food or food packaging have announced steps to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at more than 140,000 stores worldwide.

The commitment also follows a peer-reviewed study led by scientists at TFF, the University of Washington, and Indiana University that found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples from 50 mothers in and around Seattle, WA. TFF’s recent investigative report further revealed that the nation’s only manufacturer of PFAS for food packaging is a major source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals, contaminating drinking water and contributing to climate change.

Starbucks previously received a letter grade of F in 2018, 2019, and 2021 in the Retailer Report Card, which benchmarks retailers on their safer chemicals policies and implementation programs.

In response to the Starbucks announcement, the following statements were made by Toxic-Free Future:

We’re thrilled to see Starbucks moving quickly to join the growing list of food chains committed to protecting their customers from unnecessary toxic PFAS that can harm our health,” said Mike Schade, director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “Now more than ever, customers want to see that the companies they buy from are fully committed to protecting their health. With so many retailers publicly committing to eliminating PFAS from their packaging, now is the time for Congress to act.”

“It’s great to see Starbucks taking this step forward. Communities across the U.S. are paying with our health and our tax dollars for the pollution from these toxic chemicals,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Toxic-Free Future’s federal policy program. “Congress should pass the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act and shut down this route of exposure by taking PFAS off the menu nationwide.”

“Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a number of health concerns including cancer, immune suppression, higher cholesterol, and pregnancy-induced hypertension,” said Erika Schreder, science director for Toxic-Free Future. “Now that we know they are also in the breast milk of U.S. moms, we can’t waste any time in replacing PFAS with safer alternatives.”

ABOUT TOXIC-FREE FUTURE’S CAMPAIGN TO PHASE OUT PFAS IN RETAIL FOOD PACKAGING

Since 2018, Toxic-Free Future’s Mind the Store program and its partners from across the country have been working to drive the nation’s largest grocery, fast-food, and fast-casual chains to ban PFAS in food packaging.

The campaign launched with more than 75 letters requesting action to address toxic PFAS sent to the top grocery and fast-food chains in North America, followed by product testing investigations at grocery store chains in 2018 and 2019. In the summer of 2020, the campaign released a follow-up study, Packaged in Pollution, finding nearly half of all food packaging samples tested positive for fluorine above the screening level indicating the likely presence of PFAS, including in the packaging of McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King’s Whopper.

The campaign also launched online petitions signed by tens of thousands of consumers; published report cards analyzing retailer chemical policies; hosted actions at fast-food chains nationwide; published factsheets on alternatives and guidance for implementing restrictions on PFAS; engaged investors; authored an original investigative report tracing the toxic path of PFAS; and released a new campaign mascot, Polluted Polly, to inspire actions that break the toxic lifecycle of PFAS.

PFAS BACKGROUND

Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments.

A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are often referred to as “forever” chemicals because they are not known to break down in the environment and can easily move through soil to drinking water. With remarkable persistence and mobility, PFAS have become global pollutants that threaten the health of people and wildlife.

In January, TFF released a study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant. A new investigation released last week by Consumer Reports found PFAS appear to be widespread in packaging they tested from chain restaurants and grocery stores.

In November 2021, the bipartisan Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and in the House of Representatives by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Don Young (R-Alaska). The legislation will ban the use of any perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) as a food contact substance.

State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME and WA have given state agencies authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. CA, CT, ME, MN, NY, VT, and WA have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging. Similar legislation to ban PFAS in food packaging and/or cookware is being considered in at least 11 other states in 2022. VT and ME adopted bans on PFAS in carpets, rugs, and aftermarket treatments and regulatory action is pending on these products and other home textiles (e.g. upholstery, bedding) in CA and WA. CA, CO, CT, IL, ME, NH, NY, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS.

TOXIC-FREE FUTURE

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that advances the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through science, organizing, advocacy, and consumer engagement to ensure a healthier tomorrow. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is a Toxic-Free Future program dedicated to achieving strong federal policies that protect the public from toxic chemicals. Mind the Store is a Toxic-Free Future program that challenges retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives, and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies in an annual Retailer Report Card.

 

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MEDIA CONTACT

Stephanie Stohler

Communications Director

sstohler@toxicfreefuture.org