Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals. Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Most UK waste still ends up in landfill, and this includes PFAS-containing products. Studies have shown that the liquid coming from landfills (known as leachate) often contain non-polymer PFAS chemicals. In the USA the total quantities were estimated at 563-638 kg in 2013. To properly break down PFAS chemicals high temperature (1000oC or more) incineration is recommended. Incineration of municipal waste does not necessarily reach these temperatures (min temp. required is 850oC), and the incomplete breakdown could release non-polymer PFAS.Wash and wear of clothing that contains PFAS-based stain-resistant or water repellent finishes release PFAS to the environment. Coatings are thought to lose effectiveness after 20-30 washes. This can include non-polymer PFAS, remnant from production or as a break-down product of side-chain polymers (Lassen et al. 2015). The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes releases PFAS into the environment, both by air and water emissions. PFAS are very hard to remove during water treatment. Industrial emissions are estimated to be the biggest source of these chemicals to the environment.

PFAS: passing from your coffee cup and cutlery to compost and crops

Compostable packaging has become an increasingly popular form of single use food packaging, as food producers and nations look to move away from single use plastic products and toward a circular economy [i]. However research has shown the presence of PFAS in many compostable packaging products, particularly in molded fibre packaging [ii].   

The presence of PFAS in compostable food packaging can have wide reaching human and wildlife health impacts and must be addressed to prevent more PFAS entering the environment. Improved testing and regulation of both compostable packaging and the final compost product is needed to aid the journey towards a PFAS-free economy.  

Certification of compostable packaging 

For packaging to claim to be ‘compostable’ it must meet specified certified criteria, this is different to ‘biodegradable’ claims which do not require certification. In the UK the composting criteria used is the standard BS EN 13432 [iii]. The British Standards Institute had input into its development and following leaving the EU the UK has opened BS EN 13432  for review. However little demand for change to the standard has been forthcoming, with compostable plastics and packaging producers continuing to produce in line with EU EN 13432 from which it is derived [iv,v].   

This standard is for packaging that is intended for industrial composting processes, via a method known as In-Vessel composting (IVC), which takes place in a large sealed vessel requiring set conditions. The required set conditions are not achievable in an open compost heap or regular garden compost container. These include accurate temperature and humidity control, with a minimum temperature of 60 –70 oC. A specified period of time is usually needed to ensure the compostable products breakdown, often a minimum of 12 weeks.  

Limiting toxic elements 

The BS EN 13432 standard limits the level of heavy metals which can be present in the a compostable product and also limits PFAS levels to 100ppm [vi].  

Although this limits the amount of PFAS that can be present in packaging, it does not ban its use, and is quite a high level to be set in regulations. For example Denmark have reduced the levels of PFAS allowed in food packaging to 20ppm TOF (total organic fluorine – a measure of PFAS).  

To date nine US states have implemented the phase out of PFAS use in food contact packaging, with others expected to follow. The direction that global regulation is travelling in, and developing evidence of the impacts of PFAS, indicates that the EN 13432 standard requires amendments or a new standard altogether, in order to reduce and ultimately remove PFAS from compostable packaging. 

Comparing compostable standards 

A number of further international  and national standards exist for compostable certification (Table 1). The Canada standard CAN/BNQ 0017-088 is based on ISO 17088 with modifications [vii], where ISO 17088 is an International Standard for products in industrial composters [viii]. 

Table 1: Examples of national, international and 3rd party certified industrial compost standards and certification schemes 


There are currently a number of certification schemes for home composting based on EN 13432, and other standards have provision for home composting conditions [ix] (Table 2). Home composting can also be certified through compliance with the international standard ISO 14021 [x,xi] 

Table 2: Examples of composting standards based on EN 13432 and other standards and certification schemes with provision for home composting conditions


Contaminated compost 

Fidra’s findings that PFAS can be present in high levels in compostable food packaging products is of particular concern, as PFAS does not breakdown during the composting process. It can therefore go on to contaminate the wider composting waste stream, resulting in production of PFAS-contaminated compost.  

This contaminated compost is then spread over land, resulting in PFAS directly entering the soil environment, from where it can pass into our waterways and spread even further. Significantly, PFAS applied to fields in compost could be taken up by crops, providing a route for PFAS to enter the human food chain. If the crops are used for animal feed this is then a route for PFAS to be taken up by livestock which will ultimately also be part of the human food chain [xii,xiii].  

In the UK there is currently no requirement to test compost for PFAS levels. This means we do not know the full extent to which PFAS is being spread over our fields and gardens through the use of compost. 

UK compost regulation 

Current certification of compostable packaging does not prevent PFAS contaminating compost waste streams. 

Compost produced from waste must meet BSI PAS:100 standards to no longer be classed as waste. However testing for this criteria does not require testing for PFAS levels or specifying limits. This means that the levels of PFAS which could be present in compost is an unknown.   

Stopping PFAS in compost   

As nations look toward creating increasingly circular economies, composting of waste will represent an important sector. Increased composting of packaging waste that contains PFAS will result in higher volumes of PFAS-contaminated compost being spread over land and entering the environment.  

To prevent PFAS entering compost waste streams in the first place, it is essential to restrict their use in compostable products. Alternatives are available for many of the uses of PFAS in food packaging, with many countries now taking steps to restrict them [x]. In addition, the alternative may be to use no coating at all, as the waterproof or greaseproof functionality is not always needed, for example in packaging for certain bakery items.  

To further help drive the move away from using PFAS in compostable packaging, new regulation to limit PFAS levels in industrially produced compost is also vital.  

Are there alternatives? 

A number of manufacturers have already committed to producing compostable food packaging with no added PFAS e.g. VegWare’ s Nourish range. You can find more information on supplies and manufacturers on our PFAS-free products list. 

Fidra’s Asks 

  • Commitment from producers to phase out all PFAS from compostable food packaging within a clear and ambitious timeline. 
  • Certification and regulation to restrict the use of PFAS in compostable food packaging.  
  • Certification and regulation to limit PFAS levels in compost.  



i. Fidra (2022) PFAS in Compostable Packagaing – Why Change is Needed. Available at:

ii. Fidra (2020) Forever chemicals in the food aisle: PFAS content of UK supermarket and takeaway food packaging. Available at:

iii. European Standards (2023) BS EN 13432:2000 Packaging. Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation. Test scheme and evaluation criteria for the final acceptance of packaging. Available at:

iv. Houses of Parliament – Parliamentary office of Science and Technology (2019) Compostable Food Packaging. Available at:

v. Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (2022) Government policy relative to the development of the bio-based and biodegradable industries sector in the UK. Available at:

vi. TUV Austria (2022) OK compost INDUSTRIAL Certification Scheme OK 01. Available at:

vii. Government of Canada (2010) Composability Standard and Certification Protocol. Available at:

viii. ISO (2023) ISO 17088:2021 – Plastics Organic recycling Specifications for compostable plastics, Available at:

ix. European Bioplastics (2018) Home Composting Of Compostable Bioplastics. Available at:

x. Wrap (2020) Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging. Available at:

xi. Brake, Heather D., Antonia Langfeldt, John B. Kaneene, and Melinda J. Wilkins (2023). “Current per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) research points to a growing threat in animals”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 261 (7): 952-958. Doi:

xii. Mikkonen, Antti T., Jennifer Martin, Richard N. Upton, Jan-Louis Moenning, Jorge Numata, Mark P. Taylor, Michael S. Roberts, and Lorraine Mackenzie.(2023) “Dynamic exposure and body burden models for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) enable management of food safety risks in cattle.” Environment International 180: 108218. doi:

xiii. Fidra (2023) A Frustrating and Unacceptable Delay. Available at:

Tags: , , , , , , ,