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Zume and Solenis release PFAS-free recipe for paper takeout containers

Plates and bowls made with the method withstand hot oil and water

by Craig Bettenhausen
August 19, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 30


A photo of a paper bowl with a lid.
Credit: Zume
Zume says the paper formulation it developed with Solenis holds up to water as well as hot oil without using fluorinated chemicals.

Zume, a maker of molded fiber products, and the specialty chemical firm Solenis have published a method for making takeout food plates and bowls from paper without including per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). Though other firms make PFAS-free paper containers, the partners say they are the first to publicly detail their formulation.

PFAS are widely used in packaging materials because they repel oil and water. But strong links to cancer and other health problems, paired with a resistance to biological breakdown, have pushed the so-called forever chemicals out of favor. Legislators in the US and elsewhere have enacted or are working on PFAS bans, restrictions, and labeling requirements, especially in food contact applications.

Biodegradable waxes do a fine job repelling water, but oil is harder to control without PFAS. The method from Zume and Solenis adds four non-PFAS chemicals—all Solenis products—at various points in the papermaking process. Pamela Horine, Zume’s vice president of product research and compliance, says the biobased wax Topscreen MF300-NAdoes the heavy lifting in repelling oil. The other three additives are polymers that repel water and add mechanical strength.

Horine says, however, that everything the firms describe in a white paper—including pulp hydrophilicity, pH, temperature, and the force exerted when pressing parts—is critical to making goods that stand up to water and hot oil as promised.

Though the white paper claims to be an open-source primer for making PFAS-free packaging, the process would be hard to run without Zume equipment and Solenis chemicals. The paper doesn’t provide detailed chemical compositions that could be replicated.

Advocacy groups offer cautious praise for the move. “It’s great to see companies moving to PFAS-free options for food packaging, but what Zume and Solenis have provided is heavy on promotion and light on disclosure,” says Stephanie Stohler, communications director for the nonprofit Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, an anti-PFAS advocacy group. “These and other makers of treatments for food packaging should provide full information on the ingredients in their products.”

In addition to publishing the new method, Zume announced that it has ceased using PFAS at its California plant and will stop using them worldwide by the end of 2021.



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