FSA advised UK retailers to stop selling bambooware five months ago, and said any further sales would be unlawful, yet such products are still available online.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advised retailers to withdraw bambooware products in June, following health risks identified by a review from an independent scientific advisory body, but the Observer has reported that retailers are still selling the bamboo and plastic products online, including children’s cups and plates.
The unique selling point of bambooware products, often sold by charities, is that they help protect the planet but the plastic resin content may pose a health risk. Such products have a plastic appearance and consist of bamboo fibres bonded with melamine-formaldehyde-resin (MFR), a non-biodegradable plastic.
The Food Standards Agency ‘s (FSA) advice followed a review from the Committee on Toxicity, which concluded: “the migration of formaldehyde and melamine from bamboo composite cups can be regarded as a potential concern to human health.”
The FSA suggests “a more comprehensive risk assessment once further data on composition and exposure becomes available.”
Tests conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in November 2019 revealed the plastic could degrade over time and melamine and formaldehyde could migrate from products when in contact with hot liquids like tea, coffee, or baby formula.
The assessment found formaldehyde release from some cups would exceed the tolerable daily intake - at which no health risk is expected - by 30 times for adults and 120 times for small children. Overall, higher levels of formaldehyde and melamine were released from "bambooware" than "conventional" MFR tableware.
Products consisting of bamboo fibres with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and melamine have been banned in Europe since February 2021, and in November 2022, the European Commission warned it was illegal to sell tableware containing bamboo and other unauthorized additives not safely assessed under the regulations.
“Research suggests low dose exposure to melamine, as well as high dose, has the potential to cause kidney stones, which in some cases can lead to kidney failure.”
A spokesperson from Kidney Research UK said, “Research suggests low dose exposure to melamine, as well as high dose, has the potential to cause kidney stones, which in some cases can lead to kidney failure.
“The FSA and Food Standards Scotland have issued advice to retailers to withdraw melamine-containing products (including bamboo composite cups) from sale whilst it is consulting on the health risks of products. Health and safety bodies in the USA and Germany recommend if people have melamine-containing products, they should avoid putting them in the microwave or filling with hot liquids or hot food, as this can contribute to the products degrading and melamine being released.”
Professor Jason Hallett, Professor of Sustainable Chemical Technology at Imperial College London said the resin is “definitely toxic”.
“We use these types of resins in a lot of other consumer products (a lot of laminated plastics, for example). A lot of resins are toxic,” he added. “Researchers are developing non-toxic and renewable/plant-based alternatives, which would help with recycling, but these are too expensive at this early stage. At present, we cannot recycle any thermoset resins because the chemistry makes this impossible.”
In the UK, the FSA said any further sales would be unlawful, yet such products are still available online. Some suppliers have conducted their own tests, which they say show their products pose no health risk. The FSA is consulting on the products and requests manufacturers, suppliers and retailers to submit any relevant data.
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