Smarter With Plastic

by Ms. S on February 22, 2009

Please note that this section contains my personal notes from my readings on this topic.


Bisphenol A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to breast cancer and is used in plastic baby and water bottles, as well as in the lining of food and baby formula cans.  “Early-life exposures to endocrine disruptors like phthalates and BPA—particularly during fetal development and childhood, but also continuing through first childbirth and breastfeeding—are closely linked to later-life breast cancer risk,” said Janet Gray, Ph.D., lead author of the scientific review article. “These compounds have yet to be classified as carcinogens, even though recent studies show an explicit health risk.”  (“Early-life Chemical Exposures Critical to Later-life Breast Cancer Risk. Report finds phthalates, BPA and other chemicals pose risk; calls for more research and stricter chemical regulation“, Breast Cancer Fund)

While BPA may be impossible to completely eliminate it from your life, there are a few key steps you can take to reduce exposure. Click here for the hazards of BPA.

  • Limit canned foods & beverages. The epoxy liners of metal food and beverage cans most likely contain BPA.  Vom Saal especially recommends avoiding canned foods that are acid (tomatoes, tomato-based soups, citrus products, and acidic beverages like cokes) and canned alcoholic beverages, since acids and alcohols can exacerbate the leaching of BPA.  The good news: Many foods and beverages can be purchased in glass containers (think beer, olive oil, and tomato paste) or frozen (like vegetables).
  • Don’t store foods in plastic. Glass food storage containers are inert and there are plenty of wonderful Pyrex containers on the market.  Just be sure to wash the lids, which are made of plastic, by hand.
  • Filter your drinking and cooking water. Since detectable levels of BPA have been found in the water, vom Saal recommends removing it using a reverse osmosis and carbon filter, which generally can be found for less than $200.  “In the long run, it’s cheaper than buying bottled water, which isn’t tested for BPA,” he says.
  • Filter your shower and tub water. According to vom Saal, the relatively small BPA molecules can easily be absorbed through the skin.  BPA can be removed from the water by adding ceramic filters to showerheads and tubs. Just be sure to change them regularly.
  • Don’t transport beverages in plastic mugs. Instead, opt for an unlined stainless steel travel mug.  This is especially important when transporting hot beverages, like coffee or tea.
  • Limit use of hard plastic water bottles. Those colorful light-weight plastic bottles may be great for hiking, but unfortunately, they are made of polycarbonate plastic.  For everyday use when a little extra weight isn’t an issue, choose a stainless steel water bottle, and make sure it’s unlined—some metal water bottles contain a plastic liner that may contain BPA.  Klean Kanteen makes an excellent series of unlined stainless steel water bottles
  • Minimize hard plastics in the kitchen. Hard plastic stirring spoons, pancake flippers, blenders, measuring cups, and colanders regularly come into contact with both food and heat.  Fortunately, all of these can easily be replaced with wooden, metal, or glass alternatives.
  • Skip the water cooler. Those hard plastic five-gallon jugs that many companies use to provide their employees and customers with “pure” water are usually made of BPA-containing polycarbonate.  Opt for tap water instead.
  • Not microwaving plastic food containers and not putting hot foods into them.  Likewise, don’t wash these types of containers in the dishwasher.  Heat, detergents and scrubbing can break down bisphenol A and increase exposure.  Instead opt for glass or other non-plastic cooking and serving containers.
  • If You Must Use Plastic
  • Avoid using plastic storage containers for anything that contains acid ingredients, like tomatoes or citrus products. Avoid putting any warm beverages or citrus products in plastic mugs or travel bottles. Wait for foods to cool to room temperature before placing in plastic storage containers. Transfer foods to ceramic or glass before placing in the microwave.  Microwaving will break down the plastic, causing it to release BPA into the food.  Wash all plastic containers by hand.  The harsher detergents and hotter temperature in the dishwasher will cause the plastic to break down more quickly.  Throw away any plastic food storage containers that are showing signs of age.  If the plastic looks hazy or warped, feels “sticky,” or has any visible lines or cracks, it is beginning to break down and could be releasing even more BPA.  Choose plastics that have the recycling number 2 and 5.  These are made out of far less reactive polypropylene and polyethylene.
  • Avoid clear, hard plastic bottles marked with a “7″ or “PC” and choose baby bottles made from glass or BPA-free plastic. Don’t microwave plastic containers. Stay away from toys marked with a “3″ or “PVC.” Give your baby a frozen washcloth instead of vinyl teethers.  Environmental Working Group.
  • Especially For Kids
    • Choose BPA-Free Baby Bottles. There are several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles. First, there’s the old-fashioned, inert glass baby bottle. If you prefer a plastic alternative, check out Born-Free’s new line of BPA-free plastic baby bottles.  As with any plastics, you should still avoid harsh detergents, dishwashers, and microwaves.
    • Choose BPA-Free Sippy Cups. Stainless steel sippy cups, like those by Klean Kanteen, are a great alternative to polycarbonate plastic sippy cups.  Klean Kanteen also offers a BPA-free sippy-cup top adapter.  If you prefer a smaller, lighter-weight, totally plastic sippy cup, check out Born Free’s line of colorful, BPA-free sippy cups.  Again, it’s still wise to avoid exposing plastics to microwaves, harsh detergents, and dishwashers.
    • Limit Plastic Toys. Unfortunately, polycarbonate plastics are used to make toys, which young kids are so known for chewing on.  Since chewing can break down the plastic and release BPA into a toddler’s mouth, minimizing plastic toys during the chewing stage is a good idea.
  • Especially for pregnant women
    • Here’s one more reason to keep taking that folic acid.  Not only does it help prevent birth defects, it may also help protect a developing fetus from the effects of the BPA you’ll inevitably consume even if you take steps to reduce exposure.  “In pregnant mice, nutritional supplementation with folic acid helps protect fetuses against maternal BPA exposure,” Jirtle says.  “We’re not sure if the same is true in humans, but since folic acid has other benefits for pregnant women, this could be just one more reason to continue with this nutritional supplementation.”

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