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August 06, 2019

That compostable bowl from your favorite restaurant may contain cancer-causing chemicals

Popular to-go bowls are found to carry PFAS

Wellness PFAS
pfas food container Michael Saechang/Flickr

So you’ve opted for a burrito bowl instead of the tortilla-wrapped alternative at Chipotle or you have a hankering for a Sweetgreen salad instead of your usual hoagie. You’re doing these things, most likely, to benefit your health.

However, doing so may come with some health effects you would have never seen coming.

An investigation by The New Food Economy found that the tan compostable bowls contain PFAS — which are known to cause certain cancers after prolonged exposure. 

The website consulted a number of experts for this investigation who concluded that all molded fiber bowls — the compostable to-go ones — likely 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.”

RELATED READ: FDA tests show substantial levels of PFAS chemicals in some foods

This means that these bowls are not entirely compostable and, in fact, could be making compost more toxic, per the report.

However, the more directly problematic issue is that of the PFAS.

The New Food Economy tested bowls — not food — from 14 locations of eight different New York City restaurant chains, including Chipotle and Sweetgreen, and found that all sampled contained high levels of fluorine — which suggests the presence of PFAS, known to help containers hold up against food’s heat, grease and weight.

PFAS, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, don’t break down in the human body or the environment, leading to adverse health effects including: low infant birth weight, thyroid disruption, immune system problems and cancer. PFAS are found in food packaging, but also a number of household products, drinking water, fish, animals and more.

Newsweek reports that San Francisco plans to completely ban these problematic molded fiber to-go food bowls as of January 1, 2020.

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