Plastic Food Contact Materials with Bamboo
Is bamboo really a plastic?
What is a plastic food contact material?
A plastic food contact material is any plastic material which is intended to be brought into contact with food, already in contact with food, or could be brought into contact with food or transfer its constituents to the food under normal or foreseeable conditions of use, e.g., cling film, plastic fork, zip-lock bags, sandwich boxes, ready meal tray, drinking bottle, sweet wrapper, etc.
Can plastic food contact materials containing bamboo substances be imported or sold in Ireland?
No, plastic food contact materials containing bamboo fibre and other bamboo substances are not allowed to be sold or imported into Ireland.
Why are plastic food contact materials containing bamboo not allowed to be imported or sold in Ireland?
Substances derived from bamboo, e.g. ground bamboo and bamboo flour are not currently authorised for use with plastic food contact materials under Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. Only substances included in the European Union list of authorised substances under Annex I of Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 are permitted for use.
In a summary of discussions of the Expert Working Group on Food Contact Materials published in June 2020, it was concluded that when unauthorised additives derived from bamboo are used in a polymer, the resulting material is a plastic and not in compliance with Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 when placed on the EU market as a plastic food contact material.
Further information on enforcement action on plastic food contact materials made of bamboo ‘powder’ can be found on the European Commission website.
What kind of plastic food contact materials use bamboo substances as additives?
A wide range of plastic food contact materials have been identified across the European Union (EU), including Ireland, as using unauthorised bamboo substances as additives. Commonly identified products include reusable drinking cups, e.g., coffee cups; children’s tableware and cutlery; lunchboxes; and chopping boards.
Why are bamboo substances added to plastic food contact materials by manufacturers?
Bamboo and other plant-based substances have been added to plastics as a filler to reduce the amount of plastic in the product. In some cases, these plastic products are labelled and marketed as ‘biodegradable’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or even in some cases ‘100 % bamboo’, which does not reflect the true nature of the product. Their trade name and/or description is sometimes used to support this marketing approach and they are not readily identified as consisting of plastic.
What are the risks associated with plastic food contact materials containing bamboo substances?
All substances for use with plastic food contact materials require a risk assessment for authorisation to be carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to determine their safety, restrictions of use and other matters related to their safety, which manufacturers using them must comply with. As bamboo flour and other bamboo substances have not been assessed or authorised by EFSA, the precise risk is unknown. However, some EU countries have reported that where unauthorised bamboo substances have been used in plastic food contact materials, high migration levels of chemicals such as formaldehyde and melamine has been identified.
Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 lays down the migration limits for formaldehyde and melamine that may not be exceeded in plastic food contact materials. In addition, there are specific conditions and detailed procedures for the import of polyamide and melamine plastic kitchenware originating from China and Hong Kong into the EU. These specific conditions and detailed procedures which include among other things, migration of formaldehyde and primary aromatic amines are outlined in Regulation (EU) 284/2011.
Can food contact materials made solely of bamboo which do not contain plastic be imported and sold as food contact materials?
Yes, food contact materials made solely of bamboo and which do not contain plastic are permitted to be imported and sold in Ireland. However, importers and retailers of these food contact materials must ensure documentation and paperwork can attest to their provenance and suitability for import and sale as per Regulation (EU) No. 1935/2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food and Regulation (EU) No. 2023/2006 on good manufacturing practice for materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.
The principle underlying the framework Regulation (EU) No. 1935/2004 is that any material or article intended to come into contact directly or indirectly with food must be sufficiently inert to preclude substances from being transferred to 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.
What if plastic food contact materials containing bamboo are imported into Ireland?
These products will be denied entry at the port and will have to be returned by the importer to their supplier.
What if plastic food contact materials containing bamboo are already in Ireland, but not on sale?
These products must not be sold in Ireland and should be returned by the importer to their supplier.
What if plastic food contact materials containing bamboo are currently on sale in Ireland?
These products must not be sold in Ireland and should be withdrawn from sale by the retailer. Guidelines on the withdrawal of products can be found in FSAI Guidance Note 10 Product Recall and Traceability (Revision 3).
What if plastic food contact materials containing bamboo continue to be sold in Ireland?
These products must not be sold in Ireland and if they are not withdrawn from sale by the business, e.g., retailer, appropriate enforcement actions will be taken, if required.
What if plastic food contact materials containing bamboo have already been purchased by consumers?
Consumers are advised to stop using these products to eat or drink food with.
Can a business operator apply to add a bamboo substance to the list of authorised substances in Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011?
Yes, however the business and/or operator must apply for the authorisation of the substance before it can be used in any plastic food contact material and prior to placing it on the market.
How does a business operator make this application?
A business operator who wants to use a bamboo substance in a plastic product will prepare a dossier following the guidance provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The dossier complied by the applicant should then be sent to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The FSAI will then then forward the dossier to EFSA, which carries out a risk assessment of the substance. Under the European Commission’s policy, authorisation of bamboo substances and other plant-based fibres must be applied for on a case-by-case basis.
If EFSA’s risk assessment of the substance is positive, the application progresses to the European Commission (EC). Following deliberations between the EC and the Member States the substance can be authorised through an amendment of the list of substances under Annex I of Regulation (EU) No 10/2011. Once authorised, the substance can be used by any business manufacturing these products, subject to the restrictions set out in its authorisation.
Further general information on food contact materials can also be found on the FSAI website, including some general e-learning training modules.