As you may have noticed, several restaurant chains like Chipotle and Sweetgreen have moved from using plastic or styrofoam bowls, which are well-know to be bad for the environment, to what they refer to as compostable bowls that we can feel good about actually throwing in the trash.
Or so we thought.
Turns out, those compostable bowls might actually be just as bad as their plastic and styrofoam counterparts, only in a much more sinister way.
The results of a study by New Food Economy, which tested the compostable bowls from 14 locations of eight restaurants such as Fresh & Co, Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Dos Toros, and Dig in New York City, revealed there’s a problem. A big problem.
According to experts consulted for this story, all molded fiber bowls contain PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a broad class of more than 4,000 fluorinated compounds that do not biodegrade naturally in the environment. This means that the bowls used at restaurants like Chipotle and Sweetgreen aren’t truly compostable, as has been claimed. Instead, they are likely making compost more toxic, adding to the chemical load of the very soil and water they were supposed to help improve. And rather than degrade quickly, they contain potentially hazardous ingredients that never break down. Not in five years, and not in 500.
All of the samples tested contained high levels of fluorine, which experts including Notre Dame chemist Graham Peaslee, who conducted the testing, say indicates treatment with PFAS compounds. These powerful compounds are what allow these bowls to hold hot, wet, and greasy food, which would quickly destroy any untreated paper product. PFAS is what keeps your lunch from falling into your lap.
• a product capable of disintegrating into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil.
Hmmm… it doesn’t sound like those bowls can do that.
The public health implications of this finding are not yet clear. The very worst PFAS chemicals are linked to a range of serious health outcomes, from colitis and thyroid disorders to kidney and testicular cancers, and have been mostly phased out of production in the U.S. These bowls are more likely to contain newer varieties that are just as persistent in the environment and are of grave concern to scientists, but have not been studied as closely for potential health effects.
There must be something to all of this, because on January 1, 2020, San Francisco will ban bowls such as these which have been intentionally manufactured with PFAS.
New Food Economy says food-service manufacturers and restaurants are scrambling to develop a replacement for the bowls currently being used that doesn’t include PFAS by San Francisco’s deadline, but as of right now, no such alternative exists.
At this point I am beginning to wonder if the list of things that do NOT cause cancer is longer than the list of things that do cause it. How about someone comes up with a damn cure so we can quit worrying about it so much? Just a thought.