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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

Plastic FCM containing “bamboo” additive

Legal - Cutlery made of 100% bamboo

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.

False claims

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.

Q&A

Common questions asked on this subject.

Meeting reports

2021