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‘Forever Chemicals’ Linked To Cancer Found In Popular, Certified Compostable Take-Out Containers

by Rudy Sanchez on 08/14/2019 | 2 Minute Read

With the impact of styrofoam and plastics on the environment, many cities have banned their use and companies have started or have pledged to stop using them, leaving restaurants to find an alternative that is both sustainable and resistant to heat, liquids, and grease. A popular option, molded fiberboards, promises to be 100% compostable while standing up to a variety of different foods. 

Sounds too good to be true? Testing by The New Food Economy discovered indeed it is.

Collecting several bowls from restaurants that claim their bowls are compostable, such as Chipotle, Sweetgreen and Dig, The New Food Economy found that all containers carry high levels of a class of chemical compounds called PFAS, or per- and polyflouroalkyls.

Editorial photograph

These compounds allow the take-out containers to maintain their form, but they're also linked to negative health effects like thyroid disorders and kidney cancer; they've even earned the nickname of “forever chemicals” because they have no known half-life.

Despite being certified as 100% compostable by third parties such as Biodegradable Products Institute, PFAS do not fully break down, making compost toxic and contaminating soil and water. Although the health effects of the particular, newer PFAS, used in takeout containers isn’t fully known, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends against drinking water containing no more than an infinitesimal amount of fluorinated compounds, so much so that the maximum recommended amount of the chemicals in drinking water they state in parts per trillion (ppt). 

Bowls tested averaged around 1,670 parts per million. By contrast, the federal government recommends children not drink water with a concentration of over 140ppt.

The discovery of PFAS in food containers and the food supply has prompted San Francisco to ban packaging and utensils containing fluorinated chemicals, set to go into effect January 1, 2020, leaving restaurants scrambling once again to find a sustainable alternative for take-out orders.