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Phasing out PFAS from frying pans is more challenging that replacing PFAS chemicals in clothing, and the two industries have progressed at different paces in their substitution work. Huyen Vu, Sustainability Manager at Cervera, has first-hand experience of this. Together with Cervera’s dedicated staff, she is striving for greater industry-wide cooperation in order to swiftly eliminate PFAS in cookware.
Substituting PFAS chemicals is not new to Huyen Vu, Sustainability Manager at Cervera. Prior to joining Cervera, she worked in the textile and fashion industry for several years, which has made greater progress in phasing out fluorochemicals than what has been achieved for cookware products. This is something Vu attributes in part to different performance requirements, along with a lack of industry-wide networks and collaborative projects.
"To some extent, it’s simply a matter of our products having completely different performance requirements. For example, a frying pan should have a functional non-stick coating and, at the same time, withstand very high temperatures. Here, PFAS is superior and more challenging to do away with than water-repellent coatings on textile products, which may not need that particular function or where another material with natural water repellency can serve as a substitute, explains Vu.
Cervera’s ambition is to work proactively by being at the forefront of PFAS substitution in its products. For this reason, Cervera initiated collaboration in 2018 with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute to develop test methods for PFAS chemicals in frying pans. These test methods have since been used for a number of different products from Cervera’s range – both in-house and external brands.
“The tests showed that the products from some of our external brands contained detectable levels of PFAS chemicals,” says Vu. “We are in the process of phasing out these products from our range and we also engage in continuous dialogue with our suppliers to see if a solution can be found. We have no intention of dropping our suppliers; our goal is work with them instead to create understanding and change in the industry.”
The test methods used are still experimental and only measure a few PFAS chemicals, and although methods are being developed for measuring all 4,700 PFAS chemicals, none currently exist. Developing test methods approved for general use is a long and time-consuming process that requires several decisions at EU level. Vu, however, is optimistic about future development of standardised test methods, which do not yet exist today.
“Even though finding a general standard for testing PFAS will take time, the industry can already reach consensus on an industry standard,” asserts Vu. “This will allow those of us working with food and cooking products to share results and jointly identify alternatives to PFAS. The challenge, however, is to get chemical suppliers to transition and stop producing new non-stick coatings that may contain PFAS.”
In addition to the test methods, Cervera has also developed a process for purchasing new products, where Vu taught all buyers what to consider and what questions to ask.
“The fact that we have such great internal commitment makes my job very easy,” says Vu. “Our buyers are very good at asking questions and requesting datasheets about the contents of the products. This has enabled us, in a short period of time, to phase out and limit PFAS-coated products in our range.”
Vu also underscores that the work is ongoing:
“The best advice I can give our buyers is to, as far as possible, select suppliers who are experts in their area and who also share our vision and dedication, since then it will be much more likely that they will have made good progress in their substitution efforts.”
Cervera is investing heavily in training. In addition to the training courses in substitution provided by Vu, the company plans to invite experts to speak about specific materials with a focus on chemical substitution.
It is not only the employees at Cervera who need to learn more about chemical substitution, but also consumers.
“We already get many questions from our customers about PFAS in the products, but the level of knowledge varies a lot. We must therefore get better at educating consumers and marketing our PFAS-free alternatives. Well-informed consumers will not only place higher demands on us, but on all retailers, and that’s when we can expect change – quickly!”
Huyen Vu at Cervera offers her top tips for companies looking to start working with substitution.