Sometimes single-use plates come in handy. Whether it’s a picnic, a party, or when you’re on the road and out and about. But that seemingly innocent paper plate lunch could be infused with toxic chemicals.
Repurpose, a compostable plant-based cutlery company, conducted a survey last month and found that 31% of Americans felt safer using single-use products during the pandemic due to germs. And 55% used it during the pandemic because it was more convenient.
But what these consumers don’t realize, says Lauren Gruber, founder and CEO of Repurpose, is that they’re not only a problem for the environment, but also for your health. Single-use plates can contain PFAS, or what are known as “permanent chemicals,” which can lead to a variety of health issues over years of exposure. Found in cosmetics, cookware, building materials, and many everyday items, they are chemicals that are now getting the attention of policy makers.
The Biden administration announced this month that it will require chemical manufacturers to test these chemicals and share the results publicly. Reports across the United States already indicate that drinking water has been contaminated with PFAS.
Turns out they’re also on disposable plates and bowls, including eco-friendly paper products. “Moulded fiber products, such as plates and bowls, use PFAS to provide a grease and moisture barrier so oils and liquids do not seep through the products.”
When Gruber learned about this, she worked to remove it from its lineup. The process wasn’t necessarily easy, she says: “It’s more expensive, and very different to work with. But from our point of view, it’s hard to fathom the fact that other companies still use PFAS when there are non-toxic alternatives available.”
In the same survey, Repurpose found that Americans are keen to buy single-use products that are compostable and eco-friendly: 82% said they would be willing to buy more eco-friendly versions of paper and plastic products. But, even eco versions should not be coated with PFAS.
PFAS includes more than 4,000 man-made chemicals that do not degrade in the environment. The most famous example is the non-stick coating on pans. But companies are working to change that as awareness about PFAS increases. One study found that paper production, which is a more environmentally friendly material compared to plastic, could be a source of PFAS pollution in a nearby lake.
Gropper welcomes this increased scrutiny from researchers and the media, which may be helpful in phasing out PFAS.
“The new conversations about PFAS and efforts to regulate it certainly give us hope, although it is disturbing that they require legislative action to compel companies to remove such a harmful group of chemicals from their products when there are non-toxic alternatives currently available,” she reiterates.
Until then, she urged consumers to ask more questions and turn to companies like theirs that are actively addressing the problem — and making it clear to consumers that they are PFAS-free.