Colorful plastic plates made of melamine are sturdy, lightweight, and shatterproof. These qualities make melamine dishes a popular choice for children, picnics or camping trips. We reveal some persuasive arguments not to use melamine dinnerware. We also profile popular alternatives.
Is Melamine Plastic?
Melamine is a white, odorless and tasteless powder. Today, it is industrially extracted from urea produced during the combustion of natural gas. Melamine is combined with formaldehyde to synthesize resins. These resins are used in many common products, such as nail polish and clothing, as well as plastics, and even some medicines. Despite many health concerns, melamine resin is also often processed into hard plastic dishes, plates, chopsticks, saucers etc.
As popular (and practical) as melamine plates and cups are: They are not the most healthy or sustainable choice. Here’s why.
Reason 1: Melamine Plates and Utensils Can’t Stand the Heat
When heated above 70°C (158°F), the chemical bonds in melamine plastic dinnerware begin to break down and release formaldehyde and melamine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have found harmful effects from both substances:
- Melamine contamination increases the risk of kidney stones, kidney failure, and bladder problems.
- Formaldehyde irritates the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes and is known to trigger allergies. When inhaled, it may also increase the risk of sinonasal and nasopharyngeal cancer.
The FDA sets strict limits for both substances. A maximum of 2.5 mg melamine and 15 mg formaldehyde may be contained per kilogram of food. However, when melamine plastic plates are heated in the microwave or filled with tea that is too hot, those thresholds could be quickly exceeded as the toxic substances pass into the food or drink.
Cooking utensils such as spoons, spatulas, and tongs are also widely available in melamine plastic. They should never be left in the pots or pans during cooking because of the risk of melamine and formaldehyde contamination. It is best not to use cookware made of melamine plastic and simply stick to wood.
Reason 2: Acids, Fat and Salt Dissolve Melamine into Your Food
Acidic, fatty and salty foods can cause melamine and formaldehyde from the plastic dishes to dissolve in your food. This is especially true when you store foods with greasy or salty sauces in melamine dinnerware. For your own safety, we recommend that you avoid melamine containers completely and use ones made of glass or stainless steel.
You’ll find some ideas for plastic-free food storage containers here: Freeze Foods without Plastic: 6 Sustainable Household Hacks
Reason 3: Other Unknown Toxins in Melamine Plates
Manufacturers are not usually mandated to indicate exactly which substances they use in their plastic products. This often makes it impossible to know which other toxins could be released from melamine plates. One frequent offender is nonylphenol, which is used to keep plastics stable in sunlight and heat. When ingested by humans, it is rapidly metabolized. Nonylphenol should be avoided because it is an endocrine disruptor and xenoestrogen.
Reason 4: Recycling Melamine Dinnerware is Difficult
Due to its durable nature, melamine plastic is not biodegradable. It is also very difficult to recycle. Normally, plastics are shredded during the recycling process and then reformed under heat. Melamine plastic can be shredded but cannot be reformed with heat. Because it cannot be easily recycled, it is generally sorted out as hazardous waste. Researchers are currently working on complex chemical processes to dissolve melamine plastics into powder. The powder could then be mixed with other materials to form new products. However, at this time, to prevent melamine dishes from ending up in landfills or waste incinerators, they are best avoided.
The Best Melamine Alternatives
- Stainless Steel: These sturdy, long-lasting, and heat-resistant products are perfect for your picnic or camping trip. There is a wide variety of stainless steel products available, including bottles, cutlery, lunch boxes, and even bottles made for children. With these sustainable options, there’s no more need for melamine plates.
- Wood: Cooking spoons, spatulas and dishes made from wood are slightly heavier than plastic, but more sustainable – and, in the case of bowls and cups, not as fragile, as their porcelain counterparts. They’re also biodegradable! Olive wood plates and cooking utensils, bamboo cutting boards or coconut bowls are especially nice options. Bear in mind that exotic wood production often uses fertilizers, irrigates with local drinking water, and has a high carbon footprint during transit.
- Bioplastics: Not the great alternative it may appear to be. Products made from plant-based materials are becoming more prevalent. Unfortunately, the palm leaves, bamboo, sugar cane, and corn used to produce these bioplastics are often grown on recently deforested land. These plants are usually genetically modified varieties grown in monocultures. Crops cultivated for bioplastics also use land that could otherwise be used to grow food.
Want to learn more about green living? Check us out on social media for more tips and tricks!
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This article was translated from German into English. You can view the original here: Melamin: 4 gute Gründe gegen das Kunststoff-Geschirraffiliate links: If you buy here, you actively support Utopia.org because we get a small portion of the proceeds.
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