Are PEVA and PUL Safe for Making Reusable Lunch Bags and Wraps?

PULFood safe fabric for reusable lunch bags and mats can be harder to find than you think. What are the alternatives?

We’ve had numerous discussions about plastic and vinyl options for crafting here at Crafting a Green World. In fact, Kelly stated why vinyl was bad and even gave a tutorial on how to make your own oil cloth as an alternative to vinyl. And she mentioned how PEVA is a better option to vinyl and how it’s used in making so many crafts, including reusable lunch wraps and bags.

And with back to school upon us, we want to promote waste free lunch packaging by using reusable lunch bags. But as a recent article in the New York Times states, eco-friendly lunch packaging could be a challenge.

So while we try to do the ‘right’ thing and even go further by making our own reusable lunch sacks and wraps, I wonder, are PEVA and PUL based fabrics safe for food? In trying to be eco-friendly, are we putting our kids health in danger by using plastic for wrapping their food in plastic?

Polyethylene Vinyl Acetate

I know this is not the “bad” vinyl that doesn’t have chlorine in it but it’s still plastic, derived from petroleum. But is it food safe because it doesn’t contain chlorine and BPA? In fact, some BPA replacements can be just as toxic as the BPA it’s trying to replace. So how do we know if PEVA is safe for food, just because it’s not PVC?

The truth is, we just don’t know the long term effect of this plastic yet even though many household items and toys are now made with it.

Beth of Plastic Free Life has a list of lunch packaging options and she states the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ on each of them. Most are lined with some sort of plastic, probably PEVA or PUL. But as she points out, having any plastic touching kids lunch in a lunch wrap or lunch bag is unsettling.

Polyurethane Laminate (PUL)

I remember when I was researching fabrics for making my own reusable wraps back in 2009, and came across many crafters who were selling polyurethane laminted fabric called PUL, mainly made by a company called Fabrite. I contacted the company to find out if PUL is food safe. The COO of Fabrite, Melody Levy replied and said, “We do not sell PUL as a fabric that is safe for food and also know people use it for that purpose. We do not market, certify or authorize food storage with PUL.

Yikes! So what was I suppose to do?

I contacted the crafters who sold lunch wraps and bags to find out if they used a “different” kinds of PUL that was food safe (I thought, maybe, there were different kinds that they were using that I didn’t know about.) But much to my dismay, they all used the same type – the kind that Ms. Levy stated is not food safe. So clearly, these crafters weren’t either aware that it wasn’t food safe or they didn’t care.

I even found one article that questions PUL for using it as a diaper cover because of chemicals involved in the making of PUL fabric. Do we want plastics touching our food if this article’s author is even questioning its use as a diaper cover?

I don’t think so.

PUL backing

So what’s a good alternative?

I know there are nylon rip stop lined wraps too but they are nylon – petroleum derived fabric. I know it’s “Water resistant” and “stain resistant” but still, it’s petroleum derived and chemically treated.

Personally, I would rather use unbleached cotton canvas, the thicker the better. You can either sew an envelope type of bag to insert your sandwich or strategically add a couple of pieces of velcro (I know it’s plastic but at least, it won’t touch your food) to wrap your sandwich. Since cotton canvas is thicker than most cotton, even if there’s a little bit of liquid, it won’t soak through. And since it’s unbleached, you don’t have to worry about chlorine.

I know making your own sandwich wraps and bags are cheaper than buying them but I would really look hard at those plastic lined fabrics when making lunch wraps for kids. After all, aren’t we making lunch ourselves so that they can be healthier? Why risk their health by wrapping it in plastic?

What do you use to make your lunch wraps and bags?

Written by Karen Lee

Karen lives a simple, frugal, green life and shares her eco tips and news on ecokaren and is a co-founder of Green Sisterhood, a network of community of green women bloggers, making change. When she's not managing Green Sisterhood or blogging on ecokaren, she is a chauffeur to two greenagers, wife to an accidental recycler, master chef to hungry locavores, seamstress, knitter, and dumpster diver, not necessarily in that order.

31 Comments

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  1. Dear Karen,

    I’m so glad I found your website. Have you ever heard of bumkins? They make waterproof bibs for babies and kids. Since they don’t disclose what their patented “waterproof” materials are made of, I wrote to ask if they coat it with polyurethane. They responded, “Our bibs have a waterproof coating on them. In response to an inquiry about polyurethane content if an allergy is involved is to err
    on the safe side and say our products may contain polyurethane.” I don’t like the sound of that. Anyway, do you think it’s OK for babies and kids to use waterproof bibs like that? My son sometimes drops his food on the bib and he picks it up and eat it! Maybe I should tell him not to do that, but kids will be kids! What do you think? Safe to use or not?

  2. I understand that having the PUL touching the food would be bad, but what if you put the PUL on the outside and fabric on the inside touching the food? Then you could still have the waterproof/repellent bag without the toxins touching the food & it would still be machine washable.

  3. I’m learning so much here! I ordered some oilcloth online, before I heard about the dangers of using it for food storage. Would it be safe to use the oilcloth to make reusable snack bags, if I line the inside of the bags with something else? Thanks for your help
    -Gretchen

    • From what I hear and smell, oil cloth is a no no. If you smell something toxic….it probably should not touch food. But, that is an opinion.

  4. I was wondering after all this reading about putting some sort of plastic & food together. What if you have a layer of cotton on the outside, muslin or cotton on the lining, but put a layer of peva or other thin plastic between the 2 cottons. It seems they could all 3 be sewed together, then its waterproof. ……Right?

    • I’m not sure. It would definitely be better, but the another problem with plastics is offgassing, and I don’t think cotton would prevent those gases from touching your food. Here’s a good definition of offgassing: http://www.natureneutral.com/learnOff.php

      They’re talking about building materials, but those aren’t the only things that release chemicals. Plastics are a major culprit in that department.

  5. I am wondering about natural linen. The company I purchase from sent a pattern for making a bread bag-why wouldn’t it work for sandwiches as well? Maybe triple thick. I’m going to try it-my daughter just asked me about making sandwich bags for her kids for school lunches. I’ll let you know if they function well.
    Betsey.

  6. I questioned a PUL supplier of mine about being food safe and they replied that they could not say it was food safe because testing each lot would be costly and they would never sell the fabric but they assured me that there was nothing in the fabric that would make it not food safe. Their round about legalities to assure without the expense. It is certified from the CPSIA for children.

  7. I have a friend who makes reusable snack bags and wraps and she uses chip bags (after she washes them) to line the bags. They work great.

    • Lots of processed food bags, packaging contain a Teflon type coating. Just another reason to avoid processed foods. I definitely would not reuse them.

  8. Hi Karen.
    Have you heard of Eco-PUL. http://ecopultextiles.wix.com/ecopultextiles
    I have found other makers of snack bags posting this:

    *EcoPUL™ is food safe PUL fabric. Eco-PUL™ has been tested and found free from lead, phthalates, and BPA. Eco-PUL™ complies with FDA regulations 21 CFR 177.1680 and 177.2600 and therefore can be used in direct and indirect food contact applications, as well as potable water under NSF61. Eco-PUL™ fabric is washable in hot water in commercial or home laundry; it can be autoclaved, and dry cleaned. It resists abrasion, is UV stable (is not affected by sunlight), fire retardant, and anti-microbial.

  9. I am having the hardest time finding ECO PUL for sale in quantities less that 50 yards, does anyone know where to find it? I can find solid colors on a few sites but that is it. This article and thread have been incredibly helpful. Thank you to all!

    Kindly,
    Stacy

  10. http://www.diapersewingsupplies.com/pul-fabric/

    FAQ:

    6. Is Eco-PUL™ food-safe?
    Yes. Many of our customers use it to make snack bags, lunch bags, and bowl covers. Click here for more information.

    7. Are your fabrics certified as lead-free?
    Textiles are exempt from lead testing. However, before the exemption for textiles went into place in early 2009, we had our fabrics tested for lead, and they are certified lead-free. For more detail, click here. All of our fabrics are CPSIA compliant.

  11. I have also read that “coated nylon occasionally tests positive for lead due to lead being added during the manufacturing process as a stabilizer.” (reuseit.com)
    That is a bit scary to think of considering everyone thinks and says nylon is safe when compared to vinyl.

  12. http://wazoodle.com/index.php/fabric/foodsafe.html

    PUL does not become food safe by being tested for CPSIA and being lead free. Has Eco-PUL been tested for food safety? The only tested food safe fabrics I could find were at Wazoodle.

    Certain grades of polyvinyl are allowed for food contact per the FDA regs. It is scary that people are describing any PUL as food safe without having tested it. We make snack bags using ProSoft PUL and I have a certificate from them with all the test information. Better be safe than sorry!

  13. ProCare fabric stocked by Plushaddicts in the UK is sold as a food safe waterproof fabric. The company sells several waterproof fabrics, including PUL, but ProCare is the one they recommend for food use.

  14. Food Safe PUL that is CPSIA certified, meeting stringent standards by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission on lead and phthalates and flammability. It is also certified for repeated-use food storage per 21 CFR 175.300 and compliant with 21 CFR 177.1680 and 175.320. Great durability. Our top-selling food safe fabric in the world is very durable & tested to withstand 300+ washings

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