Compliance – Concern Over Bamboo

Products made of the natural material may not be all they seem and should be tested accordingly.

The growing popularity of bamboo as a material for containers could be seen as positive in the fight against plastics. However, recent research by German consumer stakeholder magazine Stiftung Warentest has brought up some concerns. Tests by the foundation discovered potentially dangerous chemicals in all 12 of the bamboo cups it tested. They also found that nearly all of them made fake advertising promises’ on their origins or their environmental impact.

Although advertised as being made from bamboo or bamboo fibre, the fibres are ground into powder and then glued into shape using melamine resin, a kind of glue made of formaldehyde and organic compound melamine. Melamine is suspected of causing damage to bladder and kidneys, while formaldehyde can irritate skin, respiratory organs, eyes and even cause cancer through inhalation. Melamine resin is harmless as long as products containing it are kept under 70 degrees Celsius. However, when used as coffee cups, containers can be exposed to much higher temperatures.

Experiments exposing the cups to high temperatures found seven of the cups released a ‘very high content’ of melamine, with some of them also releasing high amounts of formaldehyde. Manufacturers were also criticised for not warning about the dangers of microwaving, which releases even more chemicals. Claims that cups were biodegradable and recyclable were also challenged. Testing company SGS warns that manufacturers of bambooware must follow good manufacturing practice in order to overcome excess migration of formaldehyde and melamine. SGS points out that while there is no clear standard for food contact composite material, testing to ensure that no harmful chemicals leach out is imperative. If the item is just bamboo, SGS would generally use the testing recommendations for wood.

However, if bamboo is mixed with a polymer it must be treated as a plastic and the risk assessed accordingly. Its therefore important that importers and distributors collate as much information on the material spec as possible to ensure that the testing can be carried out to cover the materials accordingly.

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