The FPA issues guidance on packaging claiming to be ‘plastic-free’

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FPA plastic free guidance

The Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA) has issued guidance to address the claims made by producers of ‘plastic-free’ packaging.

In response to the big increase in foodservice packaging claiming to be plastic-free – coupled with the confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the validity of plastic-free packaging claims – the FPA has published a list of requirements to help inform its members and their customers: the foodservice, restaurant and catering operators.

“Our members, foodservice retailers and the general public need clarity,” says Martin Kersh, executive director at the FPA. “FPA members need to know what evidence they should be seeking to validate packaging, while foodservice retailers need to be confident they are making buying decisions based on evidence that is valid in the UK.

“Having board-based packaging that can hold hot fluids, sauces and oils safely, without some form of plastic lining or coating, is a huge attraction for retailers,” Kersh continues. “However, while plastic-free packs don’t contain the polyethylene (PE) or PLA most often used to make packs effective, many do contain other plastics, such as acrylic, as part of what is known as a dispersion coating. As such, there are packs claiming to be plastic-free, which are not.”

There is much confusion regarding the certification used to evidence claims of ‘plastic-free’ and symbols used to demonstrate conformity. Some certificates are produced by organisations not recognised by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) – and there are other symbols which are totally fictitious and a clear breach of the Competition & Markets Authority Green Claims Code.

The FPA guidance for plastic-free packaging is summarised as:

1. Plastic-free must mean 100% plastic-free – with no intentionally added plastic present – either in the principal substrate or within the lining/coating.

2. The finished pack (not only the material it consists of) must be independently tested and certified to be 100% plastic-free by a certification body recognised by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

3. The testing must identify the presence of any plastic, and not just those plastics that might be present in the packaging the ‘plastic-free’ pack is seeking to replace.

4. Certification issued by a country outside the UK does not necessarily validate a claim made in the UK. The due diligence for packaging being marketed in the UK needs to ensure the evidence/certification is accredited by UKAS.

5. The only symbols shown must be those of the UKAS-accredited certifying body, accompanied by a license number. 

“The guidance for plastic-free packaging falls into the same category as that required for all other claims regarding the origin and credentials of the certifying body”, adds Kersh. “All our members are required to operate their businesses in accordance with the FPA Code of Practice, which expressly forbids the use of any unsubstantiated claims”. 

UKAS is appointed by government to assess and accredit organisations providing certification and testing facilities.

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