Biodegradable food containers are a much-needed solution to plastic containers because they, for one, deal with the issue of excessive landfill waste. In a new study reported in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, scientists consider the effects of the breakdown of certain chemicals in the plastics and whether there could be some unintended consequences.
The Chemicals in Biodegradable Food Containers
Biodegradable containers are made with long-lasting chemicals that allow them to repel oil and water. These are often perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS. Scientists in the study were looking at what happens to these chemicals when the containers decompose. They found that these PFAS can leach out of the containers and into the compost.
There is a possibility that these leached chemicals could end up being absorbed into plants fertilized with the compost. When people feed on these plants, there could be a buildup of the chemicals in the human body. The health effects of this are yet unknown. It is evident, however, that there are some unintended consequences with the use of PFSAS.
In the research study, the perfluoroalkyl acids, (PFAAs) forms from the digestion of microbes were measured in the compost from 10 different commercial composting locations. Of these facilities, seven of them accepted compostable or biodegradable food containers, while the remaining three did not. The results show that the PFAA concentrations in the first seven facilities as high as 76 micrograms in each kilogram of compost. The lowest concentration was 29 microgram per kilogram of compost. In the other three locations which did not take biodegradable containers, the PFAA concentrations were lower than 8 micrograms for each kilogram of compost.
The results show a significant difference in the chemical composition of the compound when biodegradable food containers are used. The next step of the research is to consider what the impact of the long-lasting chemicals is on plants and humans.