Regulations and risks of bamboo in plastic food contact materials: EU and UK

18 August, 2023

Food businesses have an increased interest in using bamboo as fillers in plastic food contact materials. Such materials are often advertised as ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘compostable’, or ‘recyclable’, which can trick consumers and buyers alike into buying something they believe is sustainable, when in fact it is not. It is crucial for food business operators to ensure that they are aware of the regulations governing food contact materials to ensure any products they buy are safe and authorised for use.


EU – Enforcement Action on plastic FCM made of bamboo ‘powder’

In 2021, the European Commission and EU Food Fraud Network carried out an EU Enforcement Action Plan on plastics containing bamboo and plant-based materials used as food contact materials (FCMs). At the end of the one-year operation, which ended in April 2022, 748 cases of plastic FCMs containing bamboo were notified by the action participants, leading to their withdrawal from the market. Competent Authorities in the Member States are continuing to maintain their vigilance and controls.

Under Regulation (EU) 10/2011 as amended, only authorised materials can be used for manufacturing plastic FCMs. Bamboo and other plant-based additives are not authorised in the EU; therefore, it is illegal to place plastic FCMs containing such materials on the EU market.

Bamboo fibres may accelerate the degradation of plastics, which can cause substances like melamine and formaldehyde to migrate to food in risky amounts. For example, in one study of coffee cups made with bamboo fibres it was found that melamine migrated at 3.5 times and formaldehyde at 25 times above their maximum permitted levels.

Further, any sustainability-related claims are misleading as bamboo or other plant-based materials are only added to plastics as a filler, rendering the plastic non-recyclable and even less eco-friendly.

UK – Call for evidence: plastic food contact materials containing bamboo

Plastic FCMs containing bamboo or other plant-based materials are also illegal in the UK: Regulation (EU) 10/2011 is retained in England, Wales and Scotland, and Regulation (EU) 10/2011 as amended, is enforced in Northern Ireland.

At present, the authorities lack available test data and composition information about these types of products. This makes it hard for the relevant scientific committees to carry out a risk assessment should a business operator wish to make a regulated product application with the intention of seeking authorisation to use bamboo and/or other plant-based materials in plastic FCMs for the GB market.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) recently warned companies not to use plastic FCMs containing such materials. In addition, on 6 June 2023 the authorities launched a consultation to seek evidence regarding the safety and stability of such products.

The FSA and FSS are particularly interested in receiving information on:

  • Available information/data on the safety assessment of these products
  • Any testing that has been carried out that informs the safety and stability of plastic composites in its proposed use
  • Sourcing and specifications of the plant-based material used in the plastic
  • The final product’s full list of ingredients and specification
  • The manufacturing process of these materials
  • Any other pertinent information or issues concerning these products

The deadline to submit data is 12 December 2023. Responses to the call for evidence should be sent to [email protected].

It is crucial for food business operators to be aware of the composition of any food contact materials they purchase from suppliers.

Leatherhead Food Research helps companies ensure that the food contact materials they use comply with the regulations in the countries they are targeting. Contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions or need support.

Training course

You might also be interested in our training course: Food Contact Materials legislation in EU and UK - How to comply. Held from 6-30 November 2023, the 4-week online course provides an overview of the principles and application of current and upcoming legislation in the EU and UK.

How can we help?