Disposable tableware is becoming more sustainable: cardboard and bamboo instead of plastic. But more ecological does not necessarily mean healthier.
In almost 10 years, all packaging and take-away crockery in the EU should be recyclable. In Switzerland, too, there are more and more sustainable alternatives to plastic and polystyrene. Right now, in the middle of the take-away boom, the alternatives come in handy. But does ecological also mean healthy?
No, according to poison researcher Jane Muncke and food chemist Thomas Gude. Part of the packaging does not stand up to the tests.
Migration thanks to fat and heat
How do the substances from the packaging get into our food in the first place? ‘Migration’ is favored by fat, for example: the fat penetrates the cardboard and binds the fabrics. But there is something else that helps us to eat or drink packaging materials: heat. Jane Muncke explains it using the bamboo cup: “The hot coffee is poured into it, heat increases the migration and if you then add fatty milk, the fat-soluble substances from the packaging accumulate to a small extent.”
But which substances can get into the food?
The German Stiftung Warentest examined a coffee-to-go bamboo cup. The conclusion: the cup exceeds the limit values for melamine and formaldehyde. Both substances are considered carcinogenic.
A random test by the cantonal laboratory in Geneva came to a similar conclusion with bamboo tableware: almost 40 percent exceeded formaldehyde or melamine values. “People are taken for fools,” says toxicologist Jane Muncke. These are exactly the kind of chemicals that are also problematic for the environment.
The toxicologist and chemist Lothar Aicher doubles down: “Bamboo products are even worse than plastic products because the bamboo makes the dishes more porous, the chemicals are released more easily.”
What the Geneva tests and the German study also revealed: The bamboo products were difficult to recycle and contained plastic. According to food chemist Thomas Gude, this is how the plant fibers were connected. “Actually, I have a plastic product with a touch of bamboo.”
Particularly spicy: Swiss food law even forbids the use of bamboo in plastic tableware. That’s why Migros and Coop are now taking the reusable bamboo tableware off the shelves again.
And what about the less exotic, plastic-free paper tableware? The cantonal laboratory of St. Gallen tested paper tubes last September. The guideline value for carcinogenic substances was exceeded in 50 percent of the tubes.
How dangerous the substances really are for us in the end has not been finally clarified. One thing is certain: there is still room for improvement when it comes to the health safety of the more ecological disposable tableware. According to toxicologist Lothar Aicher, if you want to eat without hesitation and without a guilty conscience, it is best to use glass or stainless steel containers.