Chemicals in Takeout Containers

PFA Takeout Box Bowl Chemicals


Takeout Containers Flooded with ‘Forever Chemicals’

You might want to think twice before answering the monotonous question on your lunch break, “For here or to-go?” The disposable bowls and foldable containers at fast-casual restaurants contain harmful chemicals that never biodegrade, polluting our environment and crippling our health. 

According to The New Food Economy, takeout containers alleging to be compostable are made from molded fiber and are processed with ‘forever chemicals’ called PFAS. PFAS are a large family of synthetic chemical compounds that cannot deteriorate. The chemicals earned their nickname ‘forever chemicals’ due to their destructive abilities to remain persistent in the environment. Although these beige boxes were originally created as a solution to the industry’s waste dilemma and appear to be less wasteful than plastic, many varieties can do just as much damage. Researchers of The New Food Economy tested the takeout containers from several different restaurants in New York City, including Chipotle, Dig Inn, and Sweetgreen. All samples tested contained high levels of fluorine, indicating that they are processed with PFAS compounds. The containers' ability to hold moist, hot and oily foods is thanks to these synthetic chemical compounds. Although manufacturers and restaurants explicitly claim that their to-go products are eco-friendly and “composable”, the PFAS that exists among them cannot be broken down.

Unfortunately, very little research on the direct toxic effects on both the environment and human health has been done on PFAS chemicals. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration has not banned PFAS and instead put restrictions on the amounts that can be used in products and in food. One of PFAS's known characteristics is that they’re incredibly mobile, allowing them to easily migrate from one substance to the other. The thousands of PFAS in use today migrate and absorb into our agriculture, public water, compost, and our bodies. Although the amount of PFAS chemicals that are absorbed from one single takeout container is likely to be minuscule, PFAS chemicals bioaccumulate in our bodies. This build-up contributes to an overall chemical load in our bodies, burdening our health. ‘Forever chemicals’ such as PFAS have been linked to numerous endocrine-disrupting effects, such as thyroid disease, decreased fertility, and hormone suppression. They also have been shown to contribute to high cholesterol, liver damage, and has been linked to multiple forms of cancer.

Although we cannot dismiss the intentions behind the industry’s efforts to create a compostable eco-friendly product; PFAS chemicals should not be in our products, let alone products with the sole purpose to carry food. Based on these findings, some companies and agencies chose to take action. Whole Foods pledged to remove PFAS from its supply chain, and a Sweetgreen’s spokesperson reported that they’re actively in search of a sourcing solution. The city of San Francisco is working on issuing a ban in packaging and utensils containing fluorinated chemicals set to go into effect in 2020. As for consumers like us, replacing takeout boxes with sustainable material like glass is going to limit exposure to ‘forever chemicals’ tremendously. We urge our community to give BYOB a whole new meaning - and bring your own bowl! 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6