Formula for a European Health Deal

This document details the necessary actions for a new EU plan of action to protect citizens from pollution by updating and amending legislative proposals, as outlined in the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and the Farm to Fork Strategy. It underscores the importance of optimising current legislation through the ambitious implementation and enforcement of existing rules, such as REACH and the General Product Safety Regulation.

With this document, we advocate for evidence-based policy frameworks, promoting a precautionary approach to risk management and prioritising chemical safety to make the circular economy toxic-free. Our key recommendations include phasing out harmful chemicals, enhancing transparency and traceability of materials, and supporting the EU’s Restrictions Roadmap to ban prioritised hazardous substances. We call for a well-defined “Health Deal” at the heart of the EU’s new legislative term, aimed at fulfilling existing commitments and setting a path towards a safer, healthier, and more resilient Europe.

Available in English.

“Bye Bye” to PVC in food packaging – once and for all

Food packaging often contains hazardous substances, particularly when made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC requires numerous additives, many of which are harmful, such as phthalates linked to reproductive and developmental issues. Annually, over 400,000 tonnes of PVC are used in European packaging, posing significant health risks due to the migration of these chemicals into food. The European Chemicals Agency highlights the urgent need to mitigate these risks, especially for vulnerable groups like children.

PVC also contributes to the microplastic crisis, with particles found in human tissues, causing potential long-term health issues. Recycling PVC is challenging and often not feasible, leading to environmental harm from landfilling and incineration. Safer, more recyclable alternatives are available, and major companies are already moving away from PVC. Phasing out PVC in food packaging is essential for protecting human health and the environment.

Available in English.

The True Toxic Toll / Spanish Basque Country – Biomonitoring research on persistent organic pollutants in the environment of the waste incinerator in Zubieta, 2019-2023

The “True Toxic Toll” campaign is back with the most recent findings on the harmful impact of incinerator emissions on human health and the environment.

This report showcases the results of a multi-year biomonitoring research by ToxicoWatch Foundation on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the surrounding environment of a waste incinerator in Zubieta (Spanish Basque Country region).

The research reveals high levels of dioxins and PFAS in backyard chicken eggs, mosses, and pine needles near the incinerator, indicating contamination. ​ The report highlights the need for further investigation into the sources of these pollutants and their impact on public health.

Available in English.

The True Toxic Toll / Netherlands – Biomonitoring research on persistent organic pollutants in the environment of the REC Waste Incinerator in Harlingen

The “True Toxic Toll” campaign is back with the most recent findings on the harmful impact of incinerator emissions on human health and the environment.

The latest research conducted by ToxicoWatch on behalf of Zero Waste Europe analysed the persistent organic pollutants in the environment surrounding the REC Waste Incinerator in Harlingen, the Netherlands. This time, we analysed backyard chicken eggs; fruit and vegetables such as apples, cauliflower, and kale; and vegetation from the surrounding villages and settlements.

Among other findings, the results showed that:
– High levels of dioxins were found in the eggs of backyard chickens sampled within a 3 km radius of the waste incinerator.
– The PFOS level in eggs sampled from Wijnaldum, located 2 km from the incinerator, largely exceeds the limit imposed by EU regulations.
– There are high levels of aluminium in eggshells sampled from Wijnaldum.

These findings raise concerns about the region’s environmental health and the health of those living near the incinerator.

Available in English and Dutch.

The True Toxic Toll / Slovakia – biomonitoring research on persistent organic pollutants in the environmental surrounding the cement plant in Turňa nad Bodvou

The “True Toxic Toll” campaign is back with the most recent findings on the harmful impact of incinerator emissions on human health and the environment.

The latest research conducted by ToxicoWatch on behalf of Zero Waste Europe analysed the persistent organic pollutants in the environment surrounding a cement kiln in Turňa nad Bodvou, Slovakia. This time, we analysed fruit such as apples, figs, and grapes; backyard chicken eggs; vegetation; and dust, water, and sediments from the surrounding villages.

The results showed that:
– PFAs were detected in grapes and fig leaves; and PAH levels were found in apples and grapes;
– There were concentrations of dioxins, PAH, and PFAS in eggs, pine needles, and mosses;
– Eggs from backyard chickens in three locations exceeded the EU limit for dioxins.
– Elevated levels of PAH were found in roof dust.

These findings raise concerns about the region’s environmental health and the health of those living near the incinerator.

Available in English and Slovak.

We had a Green Deal, now Europe needs a Health Deal

For too long in the EU, regulators have sidestepped the issue of dealing with the health impacts of chemical exposure. Our economies are still set up in such a way as to prioritise efficiency and convenience, when we urgently need to strive for a set-up that prioritises sufficiency, wellbeing, and resilience. Member State governments and Members of the European Parliament have the opportunity to lead truly transformative change, responsibly shaping legislation around products and waste to prioritise health outcomes for citizens, instead of sweeping them under the rug. This is Zero Waste Europe’s manifesto for a health deal for Europe – which goes beyond the Green Deal to confront hidden dangers in products and ensure a safer, healthier continent.

Available in English.

Functionalisation of paper and cardboard

Paper and cardboard require functionalisation so that they can be used in contact with food. Functionalisation may include adding a barrier function to water, grease, gases, etc. This is mainly achieved through the use of plastic, i.e. the combination of polymer(s) + additive(s). Paper and cardboard food packaging are, therefore, not free from plastic. As such, most paper and cardboard packaging remain at the same level as “single-use plastics”, as defined in the European Directive on Single-Use Plastics.

The English version of this report by M. + Mme Recyclage was made possible thanks to the contributions of Ville de Paris, Zero Waste Europe, the Rethink Plastic alliance, and the ReuSe Vanguard Project (RSVP).

Available in English.

What’s inside food-contact paper packaging? Plastic.

After the well-deserved spotlight given to single-use plastics when it comes to their serious environmental impacts, single-use paper-based and cardboard packaging have covertly taken their space, supposedly as a more ‘sustainable alternative’. The associated narrative has, however, created room for doubts (both from consumers and policy-makers) and for misleading solutions But is switching from one single-use material to another (e.g. plastic to paper) really a solution for the ever-growing packaging waste crisis? While the paper and cardboard industry claims so, evidence has proven that these allegations are distorted and false.

This joint factsheet by Zero Waste Europe, #breakfreefromplastic, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), Recycling Netwerk Benelux (RNB), and the Rethink Plastic alliance explores the material aspects of paper and cardboard packaging used for direct food contact applications – including, among others, the findings from the “Functionalisation of Paper and Cardboard” report by M.+Me Recyclage.

Available in English, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Slovenian, German, Montenegrin, and Croatian.

100% greenwash? Green claims on PET beverage bottles in Europe

In this report prepared by Eunomia Research & Consulting for ClientEarth, ECOS – Environmental Coalition on Standards, and Zero Waste Europe, we explore the current state of PET-based bottle recycling in Europe, as well as its potential for improvement, alongside analysis of common claims made to consumers on bottle labels relating to recycling. Such claims can give an impression of ‘plastic bottle circularity’ that does not reflect reality.

Available in English.

Joint Statement: The EU must take more ambitious action on toxic chemicals in packaging, and the PPWR is a good opportunity to do so

In this joint statement, civil society organisations voice their concerns about toxic chemicals in packaging. Recent studies reveal alarming health risks, especially for children, due to exposure to harmful substances. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) offers a crucial opportunity for change. The statement urges the EU to enforce stringent rules within the PPWR, eliminating unsafe substances from packaging.

Available in English

Food packaging: safety first

Despite increased attention being paid to the sustainability and principles of circular economy in the European Union, there is a general lack of holistic and harmonised legislative approaches towards materials’ circularity and the critical aspects of their chemical safety. A more coherent EU policy on consumer safety issues is not only highly desirable, but human biomonitoring data on harmful chemicals detected in the entire EU population show that it is urgently needed.

This ZWE policy briefing lays out proof and tried-and-test arguments towards toxic-free and future-proof packaging.

Executive Summary available in English and French.

Full briefing available in English.

Debunking common myths about food hygiene, food waste, and health concerns related to reusable packaging

When it comes to packaging for food and beverages, misconceptions about its relation to food hygiene, health concerns, and food waste have been spread by the interested industry for some time. Those concerns were raised especially in the current debate on the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). As such, this factsheet aims to bust some of the most common myths.

Available in English, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Latvian, and Slovenian.

The True Toxic Toll: Biomonitoring research on dioxins (PCDD/F and DL-PCB), PFAS and PAH 2022

Building on the 2021 results, Zero Waste Europe coordinated again a biomonitoring research on incinerator emissions across Europe, together with ToxicoWatch, Hnuti Duha, Ziedine Ekonomika, and Ecologists en Accion Spain.
The results found again high levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the vicinity of incinerators.

Available in English. 

Executive Summaries are available in English, Lithuanian and Czech.


Ensuring safe recycled content in food packaging: ambition vs reality

When it comes to Food Contact Materials (FCMs), the use of recycled content potentially creates new pathways through which humans can be exposed to hazardous chemicals in contaminated recycled material flows. 

Today, recycling technologies have not proved to be able to remove all toxic chemicals already present in plastic in the first place and current regulations shift this responsibility away from plastic producers to recyclers, who struggle to process many unrecyclable or difficult-to-manage plastics,

Regulatory framework must be ambitious enough to urgently phase out the most hazardous chemicals to ensure food packaging and other food contact articles are truly safe for use, reuse and recycling.

The full report is available in English. The Executive Summary is available in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and German.

Marrying safety with sustainability in food packaging – Briefing for businesses

‘Safety’ and ‘sustainability’ concepts are directly interlinked: in order for food packaging to be truly sustainable, it needs to be safe for both human and environmental health. Within this briefing we aim to provide businesses with a better understanding of the issues linked to hazardous chemicals in food contact materials and highlight the opportunity for businesses to adopt circular economy practices using non-toxic and reusable materials that protects human health.

Full report available in English. Executive summary available in English, French, Spanish, Dutch and German.

NGO letter to Ursula von der Leyen on REACH and CLP reform

This NGO letter, spearheaded by the European Environmental Bureau (EBB) and co-signed by Zero Waste Europe, pleads with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to see an opportunity for change in current crises. It highlights the importance of continuing to pursue the achievement of the zero pollution vision by implementing the detoxification and decarbonisation agenda of the EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability without further delays.

Available in English.