Often described as “bamboo-ware”, these tablewares are made using bamboo fibers as fillers in a plastic called melamine-formaldehyde-resin (MFR). Bamboo-ware has found a market in children’s cutlery, the reusable “coffee-to-go” cups, and people looking for alternatives to plastic. But various studies have shown that the MFR tableware laced with bamboo fibers can cause health hazards, especially for children.
The De Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit, or NVWA, recently sent a joint letter to the suppliers and importers in the EU market. The letter imposes a ban on the use of bamboo or any other unauthorized additives in plastic used for food contact materials in the EU market. Consumers can also report the use of such materials for food in Dutch markets to NVWA.
How harmful is bamboo-ware?
“From a health perspective, these products are not suitable in all cases for use as tableware… And there is another reason why the plastic objects are not suitable for hot liquids such as coffee, tea or baby follow-on formula,” stated Dr. Andreas Hensel, the president of Das Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR), in 2019. Not only is disposable crockery a hazard to the environment, but it can also pose some serious health issues to its consumers.
The German federal institute for risk assessment, BfR, conducted a study on 138 regular and 228 bamboo-melamine MFR reusable coffee cups. The study’s main aim was to compare the leak of formaldehyde and melamine toxins from the MFR plastic into hot food. The cups were filled with hot liquids at 70 °C for two hours following the hot-fill EU regulations. And it was found that 12 percent of the regular MFR cups and 44 percent of the bamboo-ware cups released more formaldehyde than the maximum tolerable limit. While 15 percent of the regular and 35 percent of the bamboo-laced MFR cups released melamine beyond the tolerable amount.
The study results reveal that it is not only the bamboo-ware that is harmful, but most plastics that come in contact with hot food will release toxins. Constant exposure to formaldehyde and melamine toxins can lead to kidney damage, kidney stone, and some toxins could also be carcinogenic.
Using real bamboo, such as bamboo steamers, as a material is not necessarily in the scope of these warnings. The focus of the report is the pseudo bamboo material that using bamboo fibers as filler. This is something to differentiate but the warning from health offices should still be listened to.
Safer on-the-go options
While selecting utensils for hot food and drinks, one must refrain from purchasing articles that have plastics touching the food. Also, don’t buy things that have melamine in their ingredients. If you’re not sure what to look for, here is an example of how pseudo bamboo ware looks. The material often has a spotty pattern which makes them easier to identify. But beware, material based on wheat straw and rice husks can look similar and can be used with hot food and drinks without problems.
When it comes to hot liquids such as coffee, the reusable to-go cup, Recup, and the portable coffee maker, Minipresso, are more sustainable and a much safer option over the MFR tablewares. At the same time, the Heatbox that heats food with steam is a healthier alternative.
Photo credit: The feature image is symbolic and has been taken by Eleonora Albasi. The example photos in the body of the article have been shot by Christopher Isak for TechAcute.
Source: BfR report and translation / BfR press release / NVWA press release and translation