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How companies view PFAS and the EU’s restriction proposal


How companies view PFAS and the EU’s restriction proposal

Published on 09 Feb 2023


The topic of PFAS is more relevant than ever. Due to decades of relentless use, these harmful, persistent chemicals can now be found everywhere: from otters and crayfish to drinking water and teenagers.

An ambitious and extensive EU proposal, aiming to ban the entire group of PFAS chemicals, is now – finally – about to be realised. Although the proposal is riddled with (time-limited) exceptions and the final decision is still a couple of years away, it’s high time for the industry to find alternatives to “forever chemicals”.

We asked 53 brands about their views on PFAS and the ban in a survey and follow-up in-depth interviews. These are their replies.

Regulation and consequences of the restriction

”It’s obviously a much better idea to let authorities regulate chemicals, than allow the industry to do as it pleases. The law tells us what we must prioritise, and since chemicals are the foundation of all products, they should be our top priority. It doesn’t matter if you have ‘green packaging’ if the product inside contains toxic chemicals.”

Brand representative during in-depth interview

All 53 companies believe that it is important, or even very important, to regulate PFAS. A majority of the companies think that the great EU ban on PFAS – if it passes – will:

  • Ensure EU’s position as a frontrunner in chemicals legislation
  • Foster innovation and create a huge market for alternatives providers
  • Align with the recent sharp increase in PFAS awareness and pressure from consumers, who of course don’t want toxic chemicals in their products
  • Create business opportunities for companies that have successfully phased out PFAS – or never used them from the start – providing them with benefits that come with staying ahead of regulation

A few of the companies have a more negative outlook on the restriction, predicting that it will:

  • Result in loss of profit
  • Mostly create administrative work

Indeed. For some, the ban will entail a loss of profit and increased administrative work. This is especially true for companies still dependent on PFAS. But alternatives providers, on the other hand, will benefit greatly from the ban, gaining market shares that would likely have remained out of reach without a strict PFAS regulation.

Phase-out and safer alternatives

“When you run a business, you put out the biggest fires first. If legislation tells us that a chemical used in our products is forbidden, then replacing it is a major blaze we need to prioritise.”

Brand representative during in-depth interview

About half (26) of the companies we asked no longer use PFAS – or never have. The main reason cited is that they don’t want to contribute to the problems caused by these harmful chemicals.

Other reasons are that PFAS are simply not necessary in their products, or that the companies have found alternatives to use instead, such as PFAS-free non-stick coating, waterproofing, and firefighting foams.

Denmark’s national ban on PFAS in food packaging material, implemented in July 2020, is a shining example of how PFAS is often unnecessarily – and harmfully – added to consumer items. It also shows how effective regulations are in countering destructive over-engineering and pushing industry to find safe alternatives, which is exactly what the Danish food packaging suppliers have done.

All companies responding that they are still using PFAS (27) want to phase them out. Most have searched for alternatives, but not yet achieved phase-out, implying that:

A: There are no suitable alternatives available yet, or

B: the alternatives available have been deemed too expensive or not good enough.

Facts about PFAS

  • A group name for thousands of similar, man-made per- and polyfluorinated substances, used for all kinds of consumer and industry products since the 1950’s.
  • Widely popular for their ability to repel water, grease, and dirt, as well as their resistance to heat and biological degradation.
  • Extremely persistent, thus often referred to as “forever chemicals”.
  • Linked to a number of human health and environmental issues, such as cancers, infertility, reduced birth weight, liver disease, and impaired immune system.

Facts about the PFAS restriction

  • In January 2023, a proposal for a European ban on PFAS was submitted to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) by four EU Member States and Norway.
  • The restriction proposal seeks a ban on the use and production of PFAS to reduce the risks these substances pose to humans and the environment.
  • It covers the entire group of PFAS substances, to avoid one PFAS being replaced by another, which is the current go-to solution (also known as regrettable substitution).
  • If passed, the PFAS restriction will be the largest European substance ban so far.

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