The “molded fiber” bowl that has become a staple in restaurants and the take-out packaging of choice has been found to contain cancer-causing agents, according to a recent study.
“In short, it’s a feel-good product that works for the operator—less waste, halo branding, a product that makes the guest feel virtuous,” said Arlene Spiegel, a New York City-based food-service consultant.
However, a study conducted by the New Food Economy indicates that all molded fiber bowls contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) -- compounds that don’t biodegrade naturally in the environment.
These compounds are sometimes called "forever chemicals" for their long-standing properties which allow them to “hold hot, wet, and greasy food, which would [normally] destroy paper products," the study noted.
The bowls were tested from 14 locations of eight different New York City restaurants, including Chipotle and Sweetgreen. Each sample tested contained high levels of fluorine, which indicates treatment with PFAS compounds, Notre Dame chemist Graham Peaslee told The New Food Economy.
“Any product that contains PFAS can’t really be compostable, let alone biodegradable, despite restaurants’ claims to the contrary,” New Food Economy highlighted, adding that although "fiber products have benefits from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint, the bowls we tested are likely making soil and water quality worse."
The presence of these chemicals can also be linked to many diseases, including colitis, thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancers, pregnancy-induced hypertension and more, according to a study published in Environmental and Science Technology letters.
Many people have reacted on social media, including Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Calif., who said that "we must do more to regulate PFAS chemicals."
"As evidenced in Chipotle’s Sustainability Report, we are committed to using safe and sustainable food packaging and only partner with suppliers who make fluorochemical sciences and food safety a top priority," Chipotle told FOX Business in a statement. "These suppliers operate under strict guidelines set forth by the FDA, and have all provided Chipotle with certification that all raw material and finished pulp products fully meet regulatory requirements," confirming that 100 percent of their bowls are made from compostable, plant-based fiber.
Sweetgreen did not respond to FOX Business' request for comment.
Despite this, the fiber bowls are still being used -- New Food Economy notes in their study that there is "no commercially viable plan B" for restaurants like Sweetgreen and Chipotle.