EU Enforcement Action on plastic Food Contact Materials (FCM) made of bamboo ‘powder’
Between 2019 and May 2021, 77 notifications about FCM containing bamboo fibers were reported in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). In the same period, 20 requests for cooperation were created by Member States in the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (AAC). The non-compliances that were notified mostly related to the unauthorised use of bamboo additive as a filler and/or the mislabeling of products falsely declared as made of 100% bamboo.
What is the issue?
Plastic materials intended for contact with food may only be manufactured with substances which have been thoroughly assessed and are authorised in accordance with Regulation (EU) 10/2011 on plastic food contact material.
Over 900 substances such as monomers, additives and polymer production aids are now authorised and included in the same Regulation, under the Union list of authorised substances (chapter II, section 1, article 5)
However, plastic FCMs are being sold in the EU market containing bamboo and other plant-based additives, which are not authorised and are not on the Union list. Placing on the market plastic FCMs containing those additives is therefore illegal.
Nonetheless, despitethe increase in RASFFs warnings and communication on the issue, the European Commission and the EU Member States have noticed that the illegal sales continue.
Illegal - Plastic FCM containing “bamboo” additive
Legal - Cutlery made of 100% bamboo
Possible public health risks through exceedance of specific migration limits
The use of bamboo and other unauthorized ground plant materials in plastic FCM may represent a public health risk as this may allow the accelerated degradation of certain plastics. This can lead to substances migrating from the plastic into food.
For example, as “bamboo”-products containing plastic FCMs are being used, the plastic degrades and melamine and formaldehyde can migrate to food in risky amounts, which exceed the safe limits (called: Specific Migration Limits) laid down in Regulation (EU) 10/2011.
Also, without compliance and documentation it is not possible to verify the origin of the materials. For instance, it may prove impossible to understand if it was new or recycled bamboo that was used for the manufacture of a given tableware.
When placed on the market, these products are often presented as ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘compostable’ or ‘recyclable’. These misleading false claims are meant to trick the environmentally-conscious consumers into buying something they believe to be sustainable.
This allegedly sustainable alternative to the plastic materials, however, is in fact precisely made of plastic, where the bamboo or other plant-based additive is added only as a filler (to give it volume and shape). This practice is making the plastic non-recyclable and even less eco-friendly.
In addition, these are often labelled as “organic” products. Food contact materials based on plants and not produced with the intention of being sold as food, are outside the scope of the Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 and cannot bear the EU organic logo. When produced from organic agricultural ingredients, the products at stake can refer to organic, if this is not misleading information. The evaluation of the misleading aspect has to be done on a case by case basis and this is mainly the responsibility of the MS.
Ongoing EU enforcement action
Following the continued placing on the market of such plastic FCMs, the European Commission and the EU Member States and Members of the EU Food Fraud Network have agreed, on 6 May 2021, to launch an EU enforcement action plan.
The objective is to ensure that:
- plastic products containing such illegal plant-based additives, which do not comply with EU rules, are rejected at the borders and do not enter the EU market
- tax duties for plastic products that were wrongly declared are recovered
- business operators are reminded, by Member States’ enforcement and competent authorities, about the illegality of these products including through the support of e-platforms
- consumers are made aware of the issue including health risks.
The European Commission will also assist EU countries in ensuring that these products are no longer placed on the EU market.
Common questions asked on this subject.
This is because those articles leached high amounts of melamine and formaldehyde, considerably above the Specific Migration Limits (SMLs) and potentially presenting a serious public health risk. Especially considering that many of these products are intended for use by infants and children.
Bamboo (often as powder) and most often used plant-based substances have not been assessed nor authorised for their use as additives in plastic FCMs and may therefore constitute a health risk to consumers as substances that are potentially dangerous may migrate from them into food.
A few have been authorized: ground sunflower hulls as well as untreated wood flour and fibers, although the latter authorisation is presently under review following a scientific opinion from EFSA. Adopted on 24 October 2019.
They are not telling the whole truth. The material may have been tested to comply with certain migration limits, such as those of formaldehyde and melamine. However, the bamboo contained also in the plastic is still not legal. Even passing tests may be misleading, since we have seen that migration of certain substances goes up considerably after a couple of uses. Such effects could be part of the safety assessment if the EFSA considers there could be a problem. The German Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR) has published a report on the problem.
Bamboo containing plastics are quite commonly falsely marketed as being made of ‘bamboo’, explaining such articles are in fact plastics.
Usually the presence of bamboo and other ground plant materials in plastics or melamine products is highly advertised.
This is because this information can be attractive for the environmental sensitivity of consumers.
Therefore, these products will have indications that underline the bamboo and other fibres and flour originating from plants component as "natural" as well as being labelled as: ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘recyclable’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’, etc.
However, these claims often lack justification, and are therefore misleading. Most of these FCM are made of plastic, where bamboo or other plant-based powder or fibers are used as a filler within a plastic matrix. Vegetable fibers are only an additive, making the plastic non-recyclable and the product less eco-friendly.
There is thus no reason to consider a product composed of plastic and vegetable fibres as eco-compatible, recyclable, biodegradable.
Plastic materials intended for contact with food may only be manufactured with substances authorised in accordance with Regulation (EU) 10/2011 on plastic food contact material. This ensures that any substance used has been thoroughly assessed. Over 900 substances including monomers, additives, polymer production aids and some other substances with a technical function in plastic are now authorised and included in the Union list under Regulation (EU) No 10/2011. This includes, for example, ground sunflower seed hulls.
“Bamboo”, as well as maize and other commonly used vegetal fibres, have not been assessed nor authorized for their safety as additives in plastic FCMs and could pose a risk to health. The problem is that we do know whether they could or not be dangerous. No such assessment has been done on the use of bamboo in melamine-formaldehyde plastic FCMs.
In fact, EFSA in a recent opinion has noted the migration properties of the plastic can be significantly influenced by the type of plant material filler used, and hence assessment should be done at the level of individual plant species including compatibility with the plastic matrix.
No, FCM which are made 100% from the bamboo or plant material itself are not affected by this action and are legally on the market, subject to the general EU requirements and national legislation.
How can I recognise and distinguish illegal and legal products?
Illegal - Plastic FCM containing “bamboo” additive
Products made from unmodified bamboo fibre which has been cut or shaped are not covered, but ground bamboo powder that has been added to a plastic matrix is covered in this action. If someone puts on a bamboo print on the latter material, which is the case here, it doesn’t make it unmodified bamboo – the print actually underlines that it is not as otherwise the print wouldn’t be needed.
Legal - Cutlery made of 100% bamboo
So, if the bulk of the material consists of a mixture of fibre and polymers, it is a plastic, if the bulk of the material retains the natural structure of bamboo without any addition of polymers it is bamboo and not a plastic.
Producers of plastic materials who wish to use bamboo powder or other plant-based additives should apply for assessment and authorisation.
Consumers are advised not to purchase such products, and to report such products if found to the national food safety authority in their country.
It is advised to return it to the retail store or contact the platform, if bought online. If the retailer or the platform continue selling these items, consumers might consider informing their national food safety authority.
Since the product cannot be considered safe, it is advised to not use them and safely dispose of them.
No, because those products are already illegal. The manufactures must take action to ensure Bamboo is authorised if they want to use it.
The rules concerning the need to apply for an assessment and authorisation of substances in plastic FCM at EU level have existed since 1990 and the action is therefore to be seen as an enforcement of the existing rules.
The action has been launched at the request of some Member States to make sure that illegal products do not reach the consumers.
The Commission is coordinating the plan and will monitor the progress.
- 6 May: Minutes
- Legislation on food contact materials
- Note on the use of bamboo (see table 23 June)
- List of competent national food fraud contact points
- List of competent consumer protection authorities
- Information on resolving cross-border consumer complaints
- Scientific opinion 10.2903/J.efsa.2019.5902 adopted by EFSA on 24 October 2019: “Update of the risk assessment of ‘wood flour and fibres, untreated’ (FCM No 96) for use in food contact materials, and criteria for future applications of materials from plants origin as additives for plastic food contact materials”
- National actions against the illegal import and distribution of plastic food contact materials containing bamboo or other illegal vegetal additives BE / NL / LU / DE / PL