​​​​​​​Consumer protectionConsumer test detects toxic chemicals in non-plastic disposable tableware

Today, the European Consumer Organization BEUC released a report that analyzed chemical contamination of non-plastic single-use tableware. According to the results 53 percent of the sampled products contained one or more risky chemicals above recommended levels.

To protect the environment from increasing plastic pollution, many single-use plastic products will be banned in the EU from July 03, 2021. As an alternative, manufacturers increasingly offer disposable products made of bamboo, paper, or palm leaves. However, unlike plastics, the safety of these product materials that are in direct contact with food is unregulated in the EU.

This survey was conducted by BEUC consumer organizations in Italy, Denmark, Spain, and France. For this study, 57 disposable to-go products were tested, such as disposable bowls made from straw or bagasse (i.e., fibers from sugarcane stalks), paper straws, and palm leaf tableware. Each organization sent samples from their national markets to be analyzed in laboratories for selected chemicals.

These are further details:

  • Of the total of 57 sampled products, 53 percent (30 samples) contained one or more risky chemicals above recommended levels – including some that are suspected to cause cancer. An additional 21 percent (12 samples) contained these chemicals at concentrations close to the recommended limits.
  • Of the 41 products analyzed for fluorinated compounds (PFAS), 66 percent (27 samples) exceeded the Danish indicator value and the highest concentration measured was 140 times above the indicator value.

    • Also known as ‘forever’ chemicals, PFAS persist in nature and are widely used to make food packaging and other consumer products water-, grease- and/or stain-resistant. They are linked to cancers, IQ loss, and other severe health effects.

  • Of the 41 samples analyzed for chloropropanols, 27 percent (11 samples) exceeded the recommendation by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) with results ranging up to 6,5 times above the recommended value. 28 percent of paper straws and 26 percent fiber products exceeded the recommended limit.

    • Chloropropanols may emerge during the manufacture of paper packaging and have cancer-causing properties.

  • Pesticide residues were detected in 28 percent of cases (11 samples) and in most samples, only one active substance was detected.

    • Pesticides may be present in plant-based food contact products either as residues of the pesticides used to grow sugarcane, palm trees and other natural materials or from processing the raw material. Exposure to certain pesticides is linked to cancers, birth defects, and endocrine disruption, among others.

Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC, commented: "The fact that many plastic alternatives are loaded with ‘forever’ chemicals sadly shows that one persistent pollutant is being replaced with another. The results we publish today prove that current EU food packaging rules fail consumers. It is high time the EU get its act together and comes up with strict food packaging rules that both protect consumers and the environment."

Klaus Müller, Vorstand des Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverbands, noted: "It is good news that single-use plastic tableware are banned from July. But now politicians must also establish rules for alternatives made from paper, palm leaves and sugar cane. Pollutants have no place in disposable tableware, whether made from plastic or cardboard. Consumers currently have no chance to determine whether and to what extent plastic-free alternatives are contaminated. The EU urgently needs to tighten up its rules on food packaging in order to better protect the environment and consumers."

Source: BEUC & VZBV

More information, VZBV press release and the study 'Towards safe and sustainable food packaging'