Bamboo tableware can be plastic and release formaldehyde

So-called ‘bamboo cups’ made with melamine can release high concentrations of formaldehyde, and in Finland the food authority will not accept bamboo fibres until they are included on the EU positive list of authorised ingredients in plastics.

Bamboo has become increasingly popular as a filler in tableware of melamine formaldehyde resin (MFR), and bamboo tableware is often marketed as an alternative to plasticware.

Bamboo in melamine releases formaldehyde
An assessment of MFR tableware and bamboo tableware by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) shows that roughly one in four ‘bambooware’ articles release an amount of formaldehyde leading to an exposure that is up to 30 times higher than the tolerable daily intake (TDI) for adults and up to 120 times higher for children. Concerning release of melamine from bamboo tableware the release was also high compared to conventional MFR.

The BfR recommends not to consume hot meals or beverages from MFR or bamboo tableware as tests show an increase of melamine release from test to test when in contact with hot liquids.

Finland wants bamboo fibres included on list of plastic additives
The Finnish Food Authority has announced that they will not accept bamboo fibres and flour in plastic products containing bamboo until they are included on the positive list of Annex I of the EU Plastics Regulation 10/2011.

Products already on the market can be sold provided tests show that the limit values for melamine and formaldehyde migrated to food are not exceeded. In addition, the labelling must clearly indicate that the product is a plastic product even though it contains bamboo fibres. To promote recycling, it is also advised to indicate the plastic type on the packaging.

Are there regulatory steps in the pipeline?
According to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, the EU Commission is expected to introduce a transition period. During this period existing melamine products with bamboo fibres can stay on the market if they do not liberate excess formaldehyde and melamine, while EFSA assesses bamboo fibres as an additive. This, however, requires that somebody submits an application for bamboo as an additive in plastic.

For more information on food packaging materials, please contact:

Helle Buchardt Boyd
Tel +45 4516 9097