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.

Reusable containers, PFAS, and life after the Single Use Plastics Ban

On the 1st of June 2022, Scotland became the first UK nation to ban a group of single-use plastics. How did it happen, and what comes next?


What does the ban mean?

The Single Use Plastics (SUP) ban now means it is unlawful to make and commercially supply: plastic cutlery, plates, beverage stirrers, food containers, and cups and lids made of expanded polystyrene. However, those who need access to single-use plastic straws for either medical purposes or to be able to eat and drink independently will still be able to buy these at pharmacies or access them at catering establishments.

These items were selected to keep Scotland’s legislation aligned with the items chosen for inclusion in the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) as the most commonly found items of European marine and beach litter.

As of 12 August 2022, the SUP ban has been exempted from the Internal Market Act (IMA). This means that the SUP products mentioned in the ban will not be allowed for sale or supply in Scotland even if they originate from, or were to be supplied to, another part of the UK.


Short-term gain, long-term pain

Image: “Throwaway Living” (LIFE Magazine cover, 1955).

Our ‘throwaway’ culture has led to plastic pollution that harms our health, wildlife, and the environment. The associated take-make-dispose linear economy is the root cause of many of today’s most challenging issues. The SUP ban, therefore, goes some way to prevent the frivolous practice of discarding a long-lasting material that is used only for a few seconds. However, the Scottish Government recognises that much more must be done to create a circular economy. We need to move beyond the philosophy of single-use altogether.


Regrettable substitution

There is a risk when banning harmful substances or items that they will be replaced with new ones that are also harmful,
in a ‘regrettable substitution’.  As awareness of the harm of plastic littering has increased, SUP has been substituted with other single use materials and items, such as paper and board, or compostable materials.  Often these replacements seem
to be more environmentally and human health friendly, breaking down easily if lost to the environment, or easily recycled
in suitable systems. However, these materials have often been found to have harmful chemicals added to them in order
to perform well, such as paper being grease-proof. Of particular concern is the use of a group of almost 5000 chemicals called PFAS (per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) which are used in paper and board, and compostable food packaging[i]. To avoid such regrettable substitutions, reuseables may be the way we should be heading.


Choose to Reuse

A staggering 10.7 billion pieces of single-use packaging were produced for lunch on-the-go items in 2019[ii]. A new report by Hubbub, a UK charity focused on offering practical and realistic solutions to environmental problems, has highlighted ten recommendations to help reuse systems in the food sector set up and scale. Results from interviews revealed that 73% of people think it should be easier to choose reusable alternatives to single-use food and drink packaging.

Reuse and refill systems are not new, they were in use long before disposable plastic became the norm. While lifestyles have changed and single-use disposable items have become styled as more convenient, many reuse and refill systems are still around and new ones are being developed to replace our single-use habits.

Reusable products or packages need to be designed to be repeatedly reused for the same purpose for which they were created. Examples of reusable systems include a refill station in your local supermarket for shampoo or an app that rewards you when you fill your water bottle rather than buying a disposable one. You can find a “Living Landscape of Reusable Solution” Database here, a regularly updated global list of for-profit and non-profit programs, campaigns and products that work to eliminate plastic waste by providing reusable solutions – lots of inspiration!

The SUP ban is an important step to effect behavioural change in the public on a national scale, yet the critical point will be an economical one. A reuse system needs to make economic sense to the company to transition to reusable and refillable packaging over single-use.

However don’t forget, we can help demonstrate a public appeal for a reuse revolution by taking along our Tupperwares and tubs with us –  supporting the circular economy is the perfect excuse for a takeaway!




[i] Reuse Systems Unpacked | Hubbub Foundation

[ii] Fidra (2020) Forever chemicals in the food aisle.

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