On May 27, 2021, The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) released findings from a study of chemical contamination in 57 pieces of single-use plant-based tableware from four European countries. Consumer groups from the four countries purchased bowls and plates made of molded natural fibers or palm leaves as well as paper straws and sent the packaging to a lab to test for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chloropropanols (a chemical group with carcinogenic properties), and pesticide residues. Thirty of the plant-based food packaging articles (53%) contained at least one of the analyzed chemicals in concentrations above German and Danish limits, while another 12 articles (21%) contained chemicals near recommended limits. Every dish made from molded plant-fiber contained either PFAS or chloropropanols above the German/Danish limit.
BEUC’s report is not the first to find chemicals of concern in plant-based packaging alternatives. PFAS is a persistent chemical that bioaccumulates through the food chain but is regularly used to make products water-resistant (FPF reported). Recent research by Bowden et al. in Chemosphere found PFAS in 36 of 38 paper straw products tested (FPF reported) and Zimmerman et al. in Environment International found toxicity levels were similar between plastic and bio-based food packaging (FPF reported).
According to the BEUC, the European Union (EU) has few regulations pertaining to chemicals in plastic-alternative food contact materials (FCMs). Nine EU Member States have regulations about single-use paper and board FCMs, but few regulations mention other plant-based materials. The report’s authors suggest that the EU develop “new strict rules for all food contact materials including for those made from ‘natural’ materials, such as bamboo, bagasse, straw, or palm leaves” without delay.
BEUC (May 27, 2021). “Toxic chemicals in non-plastic disposable tableware, consumer test reveals.”