New Updates to Understanding Packaging Scorecard Spur a Safer & More Sustainable Foodservice Industry

Amid growing concerns about the environmental impact of single-use plastics, consumers have increasingly sought out alternatives made with renewable materials—as demonstrated by the rise in popularity of the paper straw. Unfortunately, this summer many eco-conscious consumers were devastated to learn of a recent analysis of drinking straws that detected PFAS in paper straws.1   

These toxic chemicals, often referred to as “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the human body and the environment, have been linked to serious health concerns and environmental contamination leading to additional exposures beyond the original PFAS-containing article.  

The plant-based straw controversy serves as a poignant reminder that even seemingly sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives can harbor hidden health and environmental risks. It also underscores the urgency of tools like the Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard in helping foodservice companies navigate the complex landscape of sustainable food packaging to make choices that both protect human health as well as the environment.  

Consumers are both wary of toxic chemicals in their food and more environmentally aware than ever. In a 2022 survey of U.S. consumers, it was found that “cancer-causing chemicals in food” are still the second most important food safety issue to Americans, right after foodborne illnesses. Further, 82% of consumers across age demographics are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, according to a 2023 survey of 9,000 consumers spanning Europe, North America and South America. With the ever-growing demand for sustainable packaging, companies need tools to help advance their planet-forward goals.  

The UP Scorecard is a science-based online tool designed to assist foodservice companies in choosing foodware and food packaging that not only meets demands for safety but also aligns with their sustainability goals. One of the world’s leading foodservice companies, Compass Group, uses the UP Scorecard to help prioritize sustainability goals and drive down plastics and PFAS in their product offerings, as demonstrated in their case study.  

The latest version of this sustainability tool, released today, takes a significant leap forward: by improving its scoring system for toxic chemicals, the UP Scorecard offers a more comprehensive view of the health impacts of different packaging materials and how to choose healthier options for customers and the environment. 

A Deeper Dive into the Updates 

1. Enhanced Scoring System: The updated scoring system considers various factors, including food temperature, fat content, acidity, and more, when assessing the potential human health impacts of a certain packaging material. For instance, certain toxic chemicals may migrate into food at higher temperatures or have a higher affinity for fats. The UP Scorecard accounts for this, providing a lower score for packaging containing such chemicals when used to hold hot or high-fat foods. This nuanced approach ensures that procurement professionals can make more precise decisions based on specific use cases and product requirements. 

2. User-Friendly Portfolios: One of the most significant improvements in this version is the ability for users to save and score portfolios representing entire business units. Now, foodservice companies can easily assess the sustainability and safety of their entire product lineup, making the decision-making process faster and more efficient for their procurement teams. And it makes it easier to see big-picture progress and advance toward longer term goals.  

3. User Accounts: The addition of user accounts allows professionals to manage their tool preferences, save customized products and portfolios for future reference, and even collaborate by sharing their projects with others. This feature promotes teamwork and knowledge sharing within organizations. 

4. Benchmarking Capabilities: The updated UP Scorecard introduces a benchmarking system that enables users to compare different portfolios. This function is invaluable for companies looking to continuously improve their sustainability efforts. 

By leveraging the UP Scorecard, foodservice companies can make well-informed decisions that not only benefit their bottom line and meet consumer demand and expectations for safe food packaging, but also contribute to a safer and more sustainable food industry.  

About the UP Scorecard

The UP Scorecard measures commonly used foodware and food packaging materials with a single yardstick to offer the first-ever, free, and comprehensive tool for making sustainable purchasing decisions for these products based on the latest available science. Scores are provided for plastic pollution, chemicals of concern, climate, water use, sustainable sourcing, and recoverability. Developed through an unprecedented collaboration of leading food service companies, NGOs and technical experts, the UP Scorecard provides an authoritative resource for businesses as well as for environmental and human health advocates.

Environmental Defense Fund is a proud partner on this collaborative effort to help foodservice companies both achieve climate goals while also protecting consumer safety. With the latest enhancements, it’s easier than ever to select food packaging that aligns with the highest standards of safety and sustainability. 

[1] The study detected PFAS in paper, plastic, bamboo, and glass straws.