What's a fiber bowl? Why are they suddenly everywhere? Why are customers upset when their $15 Sweetgreen salad arrives in traditional to-go container instead of their trademark sustainable fiber bowls?
Single-use plastic is an issue, which you might already know. Although, you might be surprised to learn that the iconic brown to-go box that you're handed for restaurant leftovers or shawarma takeout isn't just made of paper. It's actually lined with plastic.
Why? To keep moisture and grease from dissolving the paper and to keep your salad from spilling all over the street on your walk home. But because plastics have been piling up in our oceans, sustainably minded restaurants like Sweegreen and Chipotle, have been making an effort to find plastic free alternatives that will break down naturally if their packaging ends up in the environment.
Enter the fiber bowl. Made of compressed and molded fiber from recycled papers and other natural plant fibers, they should stay out of the ocean, decompose into dirt, and blossom back into a tree to house singing little birdies! Right? Sweetgreen and Chipotle were the obvious choice for crunchy granola people that give a damn about the planet. But, turns out it wasn't an easy fix without unintended consequences.
In 2019, fiber bowls were discovered to contain high amounts of PFAS, nicknamed "forever chemicals" because they're toxic to planetary and bodily ecosystems which can't quite break them down. A reasonable cost for avoiding soggy bowls? Healthline provides a great health and regulation overview on PFAS, but basically you don't have to freak out if there's a bit of exposure overtime. It's the high amounts that need to be avoided. We likely won't see much regulation on PFAS from the FDA, but it's truly up to the restaurants to be accountable to their communities.
And, they have! Sweetgreen partnered with Footprint to produce PFAS free bowls. Due to drama with terminated mergers and inaccess to capital, they had to close down production in a Factory in South Carolina. According to this Consumer Report, PPM's have decreased dramatically to those detected in the PFAS fiber bowl scandal.
We think it's always healthy to be concerned about disposables, health, and environment. This article does a good job of outlining safer, low-PFAS packaging to choose while out in the wild city. Think foil, PLA lined containers, and non-PVC or styrofoam containers.
At the end of the day, reusing is always best for planet and body. Don't microwave your plastic storage containers, but heat in glass and ceramic. Support businesses like Just Salad that offer returnable takeout bowls. Just take an extra 5 minutes and sit down at a restaurant! Nobody will judge you for sitting alone. Meal prep and chop produce at the beginning of the week to make salad assembly and cooking a breeze midweek. Bring your own reusable utensils either way and keep them clean and handy for whatever is next.