Plastic food contact materials containing bamboo flour or other unauthorised vegetable fibres
Can plastics containing bamboo fibre or other unauthorised vegetable fibre manufactured for food contact material use be imported into or manufactured in Finland?
Plastic products containing bamboo fibre or other unauthorised vegetable fibre (e.g. rice flour) are not allowed to be imported into Finland. Neither may they be manufactured in Finland for use as a food contact material as long as the vegetable fibre used as a raw material has not been included in the list of authorised substances in the Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. This ban does not apply to food contact materials made solely of bamboo and which do not contain plastic.
Why is it not allowed to import these products into or manufacture them in Finland?
Plastic products containing bamboo or other unauthorised vegetable fibre do not comply with the EU’s safety requirements laid down for food contact materials. No risk assessment of the raw materials concerned has been performed and they are not included on the positive list of authorised ingredients (Annex I) in Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. These products have also been marketed misleadingly. Misleading marketing is prohibited under General Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.
What control measures have been taken to withdraw products containing bamboo flour or other unauthorised vegetable fibres from the market?
The EU implemented a control project on plastic contact materials containing bamboo flour in 2021 with the aim of stopping the import, trade and marketing of plastic products containing bamboo or other unauthorised plant-based additives, e.g. containers, for food use. The EU coordinated action ended in April 2022, and although there is no longer any formal reporting, EU authorities remain vigilant and continue to monitor the products. The coordinated action involved 21 countries1 and greatly improved the identification of illegal and fraudulent products. Member States require producers, importers and distributors to withdraw products from the market immediately.
Has Finland taken measures to withdraw these products from the Finnish market?
In Finland, consumers were informed for the first time about plastic products containing unapproved bamboo flour already on 25 November 2020, when a national project to withdraw these products from the market was also launched following the publication of a discussion note by the EU Commission on plastic products containing unapproved vegetable fibres. In Finland, the Finnish Food Authority Ruokavirasto, Customs and municipal food control units also participated in the above-mentioned EU project. The start of the EU project in Finland was announced on 27.8.2021 and the results of the project in Finland were also announced on 16.5.2022.
Who carried out the monitoring project on plastic contact materials containing bamboo flour?
Member State authorities (food safety and customs authorities) cooperated at national and EU level. Information was exchanged between EU authorities, food safety authorities, members of the EU Food Fraud Network and customs authorities.
What was the outcome of the EU project?
During the year-long action, participants reported 748 cases of unauthorised bamboo flour in plastic food contact materials. Of these 748 cases, 644 were products on the EU market and 104 were abandoned at the EU border. Of the 644 products placed on the market, 580 were sold (sometimes only) in online shops. Other food contact materials containing plant-based additives, which are also not authorised in the EU, were also detected. The majority of these cases involved wheat, including wheat straw, while other additives identified included rice husk, maize, plant fibres and plant parts.
What types of false and misleading advertising of bamboo plastic products were identified during the project?
Contact materials containing bamboo flour or other unapproved plant fibres were often marketed as "natural", "ecological", "compostable", or "recyclable". These claims are not true because the products are made of plastic and the claims make the consumer believe that they are buying a natural or sustainable product, which these plastic products usually are not.
What were the results from Finland?
During the EU project, an online search was carried out in Finland on contact materials containing bamboo flour. Clear illegal products were found on 15 Finnish websites and 15 websites in other EU countries. A total of 14 websites were found that could not be traced and were selling illegal contact materials containing bamboo flour. The fact that the product label on the website indicated that unapproved vegetable fibres were mixed with the plastic was considered to be a clear indication of non-compliance.
As a result of the project, the Food Authority submitted a total of 25 notifications to the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). The Food Authority processed 20 recall notifications from Finnish companies.
RASFF notifications were used to inform the control authorities of the foreign wholesaler of a product of the distribution of a product harmful to health by a foreign operator. Following the notification by the Food Authority, similar recalls were also carried out in other EU countries where the product had been supplied. At the same time, other Finnish operators to whom the product had been supplied but of which the control had no knowledge were discovered.
A summary of the Finnish results was published on the Finnish Food Safety Authority's website in May 2022.
How can you tell if a contact material declared as a bamboo product is legal or illegal?
Illegal plastic products are made from a mixture of plant-based fibres or materials and plastic polymers. They feel plastic (the surface is smooth and plastic-like) because they are plastic. It is easy to distinguish them from products made entirely of plant material, such as bamboo, because in this case the material can be identified by the structure and appearance of the product.
Figure 1: Illegal - plastic food contact materials containing "bamboo" (source: EU Commission Bamboo-zling project website)
Figure 2. Legal - cutlery made entirely of bamboo (source: EU Commission Bamboo-zling project website)
In some cases, these plastic products are labelled "organic" or "natural". Even if the plant-based additive used is of natural origin, such a label cannot be used. The misleading nature of the claims made will be assessed by the Authority on a case-by-case basis, where necessary.
What happens to plastic products containing bamboo fibre and other unauthorised vegetable fibre intended for food contact that are already on the market?
If such products are already in retail sales in Finland, they must be withdrawn from sale. Guidelines on the withdrawal of products can be found on the Finnish Food Authority's website.
I recently bought such a product. What should I do?
Stop using this product. The product can be returned to the seller or contact the online shop where it was purchased. If the seller or online store continues to sell these products, customers may choose to report it to their local food control authority. You can find information on your local food control authority on the Food Authority's website. You can also dispose of the product as mixed waste (it is not compostable).
Can consumers continue to safely use products containing bamboo fibre or other unauthorised vegetable fibre?
Consumers are recommended to stop using such products that they have already acquired because there is no certainty as to the safety of these products. However, short-term use has not harmed the health of the consumer and the appearance of harmful effects requires very long-term and repeated use.
What materials can be used to make food contact plastics?
The Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 contains a so-called positive list (Annex I) of monomers, additives and other starting materials from which food contact plastics may be manufactured. For some of these substances, migration or use thresholds are set which must not be exceeded in the finished plastic product. The plastics regulation also specifies how products must be tested before being placed on the market and what type of declaration of compliance must accompany them in the supply chain. There is also a limit value for the total migration of substances (10 mg/dm2).
What risks are involved in plastic products containing bamboo flour or other unauthorised vegetable fibres?
Since the safety of bamboo flour or other unauthorised vegetable fibres has not been assessed as an ingredient in plastic products, there can be no certainty as to the safety of their use in this way. Where unauthorised vegetable fibres have been used in plastic products, migration of formaldehyde and melamine has been found in many cases to considerably exceed migration limits. Formaldehyde and melamine are harmful to human health and their migration in these products could have been even greater than in similar products made of plastic only. Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 lays down the migration limits for formaldehyde and melamine that may not be exceeded in plastic food contact materials.
Is my health at risk if I use cutlery, crockery or other products made from "bamboo"?
These food contact materials do not pose an immediate health risk, but continued exposure to high levels of formaldehyde and melamine can cause adverse health effects. If these substances enter the body in such high quantities that the health-based maximum levels are exceeded, there may be health effects. Melamine, for example, can affect the urinary tract and kidneys. However, the amount of melamine and formaldehyde from these plastic kitchen and tableware products (even if used hundreds of times) is a fraction of the total amount to which consumers are exposed, as exposure to these substances also occurs from other sources.
What products have, for example, unauthorised vegetable fibres been used in?
Unauthorised vegetable fibres have been used in the manufacture of various-take away beakers, children’s tableware and cutlery, for example. Vegetable fibres have been added to plastics (i.e. melamine, polypropene) as a filler to reduce the amount of plastic in the product. However, these are plastic products with ordinary plastic properties and, for example, do not biodegrade in nature.
If a product contains bamboo flour, corn flour and melamine resin is it a plastic food contact material in compliance with Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011?
The product does not comply with Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 because bamboo flour is not on the list of authorised substances in the Regulation. A product is considered as being a plastic product because of the melamine resin contained in it and it is not up to the operator to decide whether the product is a plastic one or not.
If the material contains melamine resin (albeit only a small amount), it is classified as a plastic product which must comply with the requirements both of Framework Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 and of Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. In addition, the import of melamine and/or polyamide contact materials and articles from China and Hong Kong are also subject to the requirements of import restrictions in Regulation (EU) 284/2011 regarding the migration of, among other things, formaldehyde and PAAs (primary aromatic amines).
For years, our kindergarten has been using plates and cups made of a natural fibre composite, combining pine fibre (50%) and food-grade plastic (50%). Are these the same harmful plastic products?
For the time being, wood flour is still on the list of approved substances in the Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. However, the Commission is currently preparing an amendment to the Plastics Regulation which will remove wood flour as a generic substance from that list after a transitional period. In the future, different types of wood flour may be authorised on a case-by-case basis as a plastic filler following a positive risk assessment result on application. Finnish operators have been informed and have the possibility to apply for approval for the wood flour they use.
I use my bamboo mix containers only occasionally. Is it safe?
The Food Authority recommends that the products should no longer be used for food purposes. Any plastic contact materials containing bamboo flour as a filler should not be used for food contact as there is not full certainty about their safety and they are not legally on the market. Other uses, e.g. as a pen holder, have not been shown to be harmful to the health of the consumer.
Plastic cups containing bamboo powder are available in my online shop. What should I do with these products?
You should withdraw the products from sale and send a recall notice to your local food control authority and the Food Authority. Guidance on recalls is available on the Food Authority's website.
The notification is made using the recall form in the right-hand column of the page: notification of recall of food contact materials.
Consumers should be informed, for example, on the shop notice board and on the shop's own website. The Food Authority will publish information on the recalled products and the names of the companies that have carried out the recall on its website.
If necessary, further information can be obtained from your local food control authority.
My café uses a reusable mug made of wood fibre, corn starch and melamine. Can I use it?
Wood fibre is currently still on the list of approved ingredients in the Plastics Regulation (EC) 10/2011. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has carried out a new risk assessment on it, recommending that its acceptability in plastic should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The European Commission is preparing an amendment to the Plastics Regulation, which will ban wood fibre as a plastic filler and require products containing wood flour to apply for approval on a case-by-case basis from the Commission within a transitional period. The permanent support in question has been and still is in line with the legislation, but in future its manufacturer will have to be prepared to apply separately to the Commission for approval.
Bamboo grass is not classified as wood, it is a grass plant and is therefore not covered by the definition of wood flour. Other non-approved vegetable fibres currently used in plastic contact materials include rice flour and coffee bean hull meal and maize flour.
In contrast, all edible starches, such as maize or potato starch, are currently approved as plastic ingredients and therefore a bioplastic containing wood fibre and maize starch in the plastic is legally on the market. Biomass made from plant fibres is generally not fully equivalent to the chemical on the list of approved ingredients in the Plastics Regulation and it is possible that it alters the composition of the plastic to such an extent that the product may transfer even higher amounts of its constituents to food than similar products containing only plastic. The migration of substances is also often increased if the food in contact with the product is hot and if the product is reused several times.
My supplier has never heard of the health risk associated with bamboo mixing bowls. Can I continue to sell the products? Who decides on recalls?
Recalls of plastic containers containing bamboo flour are still ongoing and it is possible that not all companies have been informed yet. However, the European Commission has taken the line that these products must be withdrawn from the market. Recalls will be carried out as and when products are detected on the market.
It is the responsibility of the Finnish supplier to remove the non-compliant products on the market and to inform the Finnish Food Authority and their customers who have ordered these products for sale of the recall.
Food contact materials legislation aims to ensure that contact materials are safe for consumers. It is the responsibility of the public authority, including the industry, to take measures to withdraw non-compliant products from the market.
I understand that in other parts of Europe these bamboo containers are allowed to be sold. Is the interpretation of the legislation in Finland stricter than elsewhere?
Other EU countries have also launched recalls of these products. This has been agreed in the European Commission's Contact Materials Working Group. Not all countries are at the same stage yet. Finland is a small country and there are also fewer operators, which makes it easier to reach the operators concerned. The Commission is also launching a joint project for these products this year to try to reach the operators who import and sell the products.
Why is bamboo flour not on the list of approved ingredients?
In order to be included in the list of approved ingredients in the Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011, a substance must be evaluated by EFSA and the evaluation must be positive. If a substance is not found on the list of authorised ingredients, this may be because, for example, the operator has not submitted an application for evaluation and authorisation of the substance. In the case of bamboo flour, no applications are known to have been submitted.
Can coated bamboo containers be used and sold?
For example, takeaway containers made of bamboo and only coated with a PE coating are allowed.
The recall applies to containers where bamboo flour is mixed with plastic as a filler. Even if the test results show that the products did not transfer too much melamine or formaldehyde, for example, into the test material during testing, products containing bamboo flour are still not legally on the market in the EU because bamboo flour is not currently allowed as an ingredient in food plastic.
Am I entitled to a refund on the bamboo mix containers and meals I bought?
Food safety legislation does not take a position on whether an operator has to replace a non-compliant product for the consumer.
According to the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority, consumers have the right to return the product to the place of purchase and also receive a refund. For more information, please contact the consumer safety authorities.
I have used a cutting board containing sugar cane from time to time? Has this posed a risk to me and my unborn child?
There has been no danger to you or your unborn child from using the cutting board.
Products made from sugar cane are legally on sale. The products legally on the market do not contain sugar cane in fibrous form mixed with plastic, but are made from a substance authorised by the Plastics Regulation, which is used to make a polymerised bioplastic product. Such products are authorised and their safety has been assessed.
The recall concerns specifically products in which the vegetable fibres are in their fibrous form, i.e. they are so-called composites. It is suspected that the structure of the plastic is altered and the ingredients are more easily transferred to the food.
Are all bamboo containers harmful? What about clothing containing bamboo fibre?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not carried out a risk assessment on the use of bamboo fibre as a filler in plastic food contact containers. Therefore, there is no certainty about its safety for such use. This is an oral exposure to the constituents of the plastic composite and the withdrawal does not apply to any other products than food contact materials.
The Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 defines the ingredients from which food-grade plastics may be made. In order for a substance to be included in the list of approved ingredients under the Plastics Regulation, it requires an application for approval by the operator and a risk assessment by EFSA. No such approval exists for bamboo flour, so plastic food contact materials containing bamboo flour are not legally on the market.
The use of bamboo flour as a plastic filler alters the composition of the plastic and may result in the transfer of constituents from such containers to food in even higher amounts than from products made from plastic alone. Studies in some Member States have also found that these products transfer more of their constituents to food when used repeatedly and that hot food tends to increase this transfer. These products have also been the subject of several notifications through the authorities' rapid alert system (RASFF), as they have often been found to transfer melamine and formaldehyde above the permitted limits in the plastics regulation.
Can lignocellulose be used to make safe bioplastics?
Lignocellulose is on the list of approved ingredients in the Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 and there are no obstacles to the use of this chemical compound as a starting material (not as an additive) for conventional or bioplastics. If the operator produces lignocellulose from biomass itself, the operator must ensure that the substance is chemically pure lignocellulose only and does not contain any other components or particles. In Finland too, there have been products on the market in which lignocellulose from coffee bean husks has been used as an additive in plastics. However, these products were withdrawn from the market because the use of lignocellulose was not in compliance with the Plastics Regulation and the lignocellulose was not sufficiently pure.
The formaldehyde and melamine migration levels of our products are below the reference values. Can we sell our product?
Although the results of the studies show that there is no risk of formaldehyde and melamine migration, sale have to be stopped and consumers should be advised to stop using the products because the risk assessment for these products is incomplete and there is insufficient research data on, for example, the migration of substances contained in the material during long-term use. The products do not meet the requirements of the Plastics Regulation and therefore their sale is not legal.
How can an operator get a vegetable fibre ingredient added to the list of authorised substances in Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011?
The operator must apply for the authorisation of the vegetable fibre in accordance with General Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. Information about the safety, etc. of the substance is sent to the Finnish Food Authority which forwards it to the European Food Safety Authority, which carries out a risk assessment of the substance. Under the European Commission’s policy, authorisation of vegetable fibres must be applied for on a case-by-case basis. If EFSA’s risk assessment opinion is positive, it progresses to the Commission to be taken into account in the following change to the Plastics Regulation. Instructions for authorisation can be found on the Finnish Food Authority's website.
Where can I find the Food Authority's decision on the recall of bamboo mix products?
The obligation for operators to withdraw products that do not comply with the legislation is based on EU Regulations (EC) 178/2002, (EC)1935/2004, (EU)10/2011 and the National Food Act 297/2021, so there is no need for a separate administrative decision.
Plastic products containing unapproved vegetable fibres are withdrawn from the market because they do not comply with the legislation on food contact plastics and there is uncertainty about their safety.
When non-compliance becomes apparent, the legislation obliges the operator to suspend the placing on the market of the product and to withdraw products already on the market, i.e. to recall them. Therefore, there is no longer any need for a separate administrative decision on recall if the operator starts the recall after being informed of the need to recall. However, if an operator did not agree to withdraw products that were not in conformity with the legislation, such an individual operator could be subject to a recall decision.
The Finnish Food Authority (FVO) leads and directs food control in Finland. Municipal food control services, on the other hand, carry out the controls in their territory. If it is necessary to make a decision of the recall to an individual operator, it is usually the municipal food control unit who will do it. The municipal food control services have monitored the implementation of the recall and they have not informed to Ruokavirasto of any orders on recall.
Under General Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, ingredients from food contact materials may not migrate into food in quantities large enough to endanger human health, or to bring about an unacceptable change in the composition of the food or a deterioration in its organoleptic properties. More detailed provisions on the safety of plastic food contact materials are laid down in Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011. The Regulation also contains a list of so-called authorised substances (Annex I) which lists the substances that may be used in the manufacture of food contact plastics. A risk assessment of the substances concerned has been performed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and restrictions of use, quantitative restrictions or migration limits have been laid down for some of the substances that food contact material manufacturers must comply with.
The European Commission has stated views on the safety and compliance of food contact materials containing unauthorised vegetable fibres. A summary of the view can be found here: