Standing in a supermarket aisle today, a health-conscious consumer could spend hours reading labels and comparing products. But it’s not just the nutrition facts or the ingredients that we should consider. The packaging that surrounds the food we eat can have just as much of an impact on our health as what we’re actually eating.
That’s because food packaging is an alphabet soup of toxic chemicals, from BPA (bisphenol A) to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These chemicals can leach out of the packaging and into our food, and they persist in our bodies and in the environment for years. Even in small doses, many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other health effects, giving them the name endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
And these chemicals are not just in food packaging. They’re often in personal care products, children’s toys, and household goods. So, whether you’re grocery shopping or buying a new sofa, avoiding these chemicals is nearly impossible. But it shouldn’t be your responsibility to avoid toxic harm in the first place. Instead, the companies making and distributing these chemicals should be responsible for preventing harm to human health and the environment. For decades, CIEL and partners have been advocating for a preventive and precautionary approach — ensuring that chemicals are safe before they’re put on the market. In the last year, we’ve seen significant progress in regulating toxic risks, including these major moments:
Following decades of advocacy by CIEL and partners, the European Commission published a groundbreaking strategy to regulate toxic chemicals: The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. The Strategy itself is a critical victory, with ambitious commitments to ban EDCs and PFAS, prevent the recycling of toxic materials to create a safe circular economy, and stop the global export of substances banned in the EU. Now, we must hold the EU to those commitments. Pushing for implementation will be a long road, but if the EU can deliver on its promises, the Strategy will set a new standard for chemicals policy around the world.
In partnership with the International Pollutants Elimination Network, CIEL unveiled a proposal that would generate the funds needed to manage chemicals and waste globally. Currently, the chemical industry makes trillions of dollars in annual sales, but does not shoulder the associated health and environmental costs. The proposal invokes the polluter pays principle by instating a fee of 0.5% on the production value of basic chemicals. Even a small fee has the potential to cover the costs of management and infrastructure required to protect people and the planet from the production, use, and disposal of chemicals.
As the need for personal protective equipment soared during the pandemic, masks containing an antibacterial coating began to appear in markets around the world. The coating was intended to be an added layer of protection against the spread of COVID-19. Still, health authorities quickly became concerned that the nanoparticles used in the coating could be harmful to human health. Together with international NGOs, we leveraged the moment to raise awareness about the uncertainty surrounding nanomaterials and advocate for a full, thorough risk analysis on an international scale.