Compostable Bowls Contain PFAS, Restaurant Chains and Manufacturers Begin to Make Changes
Mar 31, 2020
Many of us are taking advantage of drive-through and pick-up options at local eating establishments as we are adhering to stay-at-home orders. Some of that food will come in compostable bowls, which have replaced the use of Styrofoam. Many of us may have even composted those fiber containers in our backyard composter, or if we work in the solid waste industry, in our composting operations.
But what has not been widely known until now, is that these bowls, which have been touted as “biodegradable”, “socially responsible”, and “environmentally friendly” contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS), a group of more than 4,000 fluorinated compounds that do not biodegrade naturally in the environment and have been shown to be toxic and carcinogenic. PFAS are added to the fiber bowls to make them resistant to moisture, oil, and grease so they don’t fall apart when full of food. These bowls, which have become ubiquitous in the restaurant industry, are not really 100 percent compostable. Instead of degrading quickly, PFAS in the bowls do not breakdown and will be released into the compost. The resulting compost subsequently adds to the chemical load of the soil to which they will be mixed.
there is good news! Two major restaurant chains, Sweetgreen and Chipotle, have
pledged to remove PFAS from their fiber bowls by the end of 2020. Despite the
challenges of making a viable PFAS-free bowl, many manufactures are working on
it, and one, Footprint, already has created PFAS-free products for Con-Agra and
is working with Sweetgreen.
additional factor pushing the manufacture of PFAS-free fiber bowls is the Biodegradable
Products Institute, Inc. (BPI), North America’s leading certifier of compostability
claims. As of January 1, 2020, BPI no longer certifies as compostable products
with more than 100 parts per million (ppm) total fluorine. Products with total
fluorine content greater than 100 ppm have likely been intentionally treated
with PFAS. An investigation completed by the Counter lab-tested the total
fluorine content of bowls from 17 different food service providers. Each of the
bowls contained total fluorine at concentrations from between 800 and over
2,000 ppm total fluorine. With a number of restaurants and manufacturers
working to address the issue, we should start to see more PFAS-free fiber food
containers in 2020 and beyond.