Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and their alternatives in paper food packaging

By Gregory Glenn, Randal Shogren, Xing Jin, William Orts, William Hart-Cooper, and Lauren Olson
Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf
March 16, 2021
DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12726

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in food contact paper and paperboard for decades due to their unique ability to provide both moisture and oil/grease resistance. Once thought to be innocuous, it is now clear that long chain PFAS bioaccumulate and are linked to reproductive and developmental abnormalities, suppressed immune response, and tumor formation. Second-generation PFAS have shorter biological half-lives but concerns about health risks from chronic exposure underscore the need for safe substitutes. Waxes and polymer film laminates of polyethylene, poly(ethylene-co-vinyl alcohol), and polyethylene terephthalate are commonly used alternatives. However, such laminates are neither compostable nor recyclable. Lamination with biodegradable polymers, including polyesters, such as polylactic acid (PLA), polybutylene adipate terephthalate, polybutylene succinate, and polyhydroxyalkanoates, are of growing research and commercial interest. PLA films are perhaps the most viable alternative, but performance and compostability are suboptimal. Surface sizings and coatings of starches, chitosan, alginates, micro- and nanofibrilated cellulose, and gelatins provide adequate oil barrier properties but have poor moisture resistance without chemical modification. Plant proteins, including soy, wheat gluten, and corn zein, have been tested as paper coatings with soy being the most commercially important. Internal sizing agents, such as alkyl ketene dimers, alkenyl succinic anhydride, and rosin, improve moisture resistance but are poor oil/grease barriers. The difficulty in finding a viable replacement for PFAS chemicals that is cost-effective, fully biodegradable, and environmentally sound underscores the need for more research to improve barrier properties and process economics in food packaging products.

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