Bamboo tableware - melamine-formaldehyde resin

"Bamboo tableware" for example plates, cups, bowls, cutlery or coffee-to-go cups and the like are often touted as an environmentally friendly, biodegradable alternative to plastic. They are advertised with statements referring to bamboo as a sustainable, recyclable and natural raw material.

The products labelled as "bamboo goods" are often made of the plastic melamine-formaldehyde resin (MFH), which is used among other things for its high resistance to breakage. To obtain the desired material properties, alternative fillers such as bamboo fibres, wood chips are added to the MFH.

Melamine resins can decompose when exposed to heat, so that melamine and formaldehyde dissolve from the tableware and are transferred to food. However, pure melamine resin is considered stable up to 70 °C.

Formaldehyde is irritating to the skin and mucous membranes and can be carcinogenic if inhaled. Melamine is a chemical compound used in the production of resins, plastics and adhesives. Melamine can cause bladder and kidney damage.

Melamine tableware with an admixture of bamboo was found to have conspicuously elevated transitions in many products [4] and multiple use also favours release.

According to the letter of the European Commission dated 28.05.2021, "ground" bamboo, bamboo flour and similar natural substances are not listed as additives in Annex I of the Plastics Regulation, thus not permitted for use in the manufacture of plastic food contact material [3].

According to the European Plastics Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011, melamine and formaldehyde are approved as monomers and excipients for the production of plastics for food contact. The Plastics Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 regulates the maximum permissible amount of melamine and formaldehyde released from a material or article into food, the so-called "specific migration limit" (SML). Formaldehyde and melamine have a specific migration limit of 15 mg/kg and 2.5 mg/kg food respectively.

The ifp offers specific migration tests for both formaldehyde and melamine.


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[1] BfR, BfR Opinion No. 012/2011 of 09.03.2011 - Release of melamine and formaldehyde from tableware and kitchen utensils.
[2] BfR; BfR Opinion No. 046/2019 of 25 November 2019 - Vessels made of melamine-formaldehyde resin such as "coffee to go" cups made of "bamboo ware" can release substances of health concern into hot foodstuffs
[3] Lebensmittelverband Deutschland, Circular L-412-2021; Measures for plastic food contact materials containing "bamboo" products Letter from the European Commission dated 28.05.2021L-377 dated 18.05.2021; 31.05.2021
[4] CVUA Stuttgart, Erläuterungen zum Verkehrsverbot für Lebensmittelbedarfsgegenstände aus Kunststoff, die unter Verwendung von Bambuspulver hergestellt werden; Status 28 January 2021.