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It took me a while to learn this secret that made my life so much easier. I am excited to share it with you today. Because BPA (Bisphenol A) is so notorious, manufacturers often claim their products are “BPA-free”. Sometimes it is a good thing, sometimes it is not – it depends. Unfortunately, we as consumers can’t relax and sit back when manufacturers tells us that their products are made without BPA. There is a little work we have to do.
How Plastics are Made
First of all, we need to understand what BPA is and how plastics are manufactured. Plastic is a common term for a huge range of synthetic and semi-synthetic solids. The most common raw materials used to manufacture plastic are crude oil and natural gas, from which compounds are extracted and eventually linked into flexible chains (polymers).
In final processing, plastics often are modified with chemical additives to help create specific texture, colors, clarity, heat, durability, light resistance, or flexibility. These final additives are not always permanently bound and are free to leach out under certain conditions such as heat, cleaning in the dishwasher, microwaving, and storing fatty or acidic foods. This is a big problem because many of these additives are highly toxic.
BPA is one of the most toxic additives to plastic
BPA is used to make plastic clear and tough. The alarming problem is that BPA mimics the female hormone estrogen. BPA is also called an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it interferes with the body’s hormone system and may produce a variety of adverse effects on the developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems. It has been shown to increase insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and heart disease.
The “Dose Makes the Poison” Paradigm
Manufacturers often claim that “the dose makes the poison” – meaning that you need to worry about big doses, not small doses. However, there is scientific evidence that the “dose makes poison” paradigm does not apply to hormone disrupting substances. Endocrine disrupters have nonlinear dose-response relationships, meaning that a low dose may be more potent than a higher dose for a given response to a particular compound. In other words, it is not surprising when there is an effect at a low dose. For example, the popular antidepressant Paxil is effective at 30 parts per BILLION (not per million) and the chemical in birth control pills works at 0.019 parts per billion. So hormone disruptors can be very dangerous even in tiny doses.
Because BPA is notorious and banned in baby bottles, many manufacturers replace BPA with something else. Here is the huge problem – the BPA-replacement maybe not be any better. Recent research reveals that a common BPA replacement, Bisphenol S (BPS), may be just as harmful. A really astonishing number is that nearly 81 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPS in their urine. So when you see a “BPA-free” claim, think about the fact that the BPA may have been replaced with something just as toxic, but not as notorious.
Something Very Helpful You Need to Know
Remember that BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic. So if the product is not made with polycarbonate plastic, there was never a BPA risk. However, manufacturers have seized on the BPA hype, and tout their products of “BPA-free” even when it should be obvious that this is not the right plastic for BPA. I have even seen glass and stainless steel products labeled as BPA-free. Believe me that does not mean that other glass or stainless steel products may have BPA. So if you see a BPA-free claim on non-polycarbonate plastic, you do not have to worry about what is used instead of BPA. There was no BPA in that product to begin with.
So the main thing is to determine whether the plastic is polycarbonate. How do you do that? There are seven types of plastic. All plastic is classified into seven categories called recycle codes. By the way, an assigned recycle code does not necessarily mean that the plastic is recyclable.
Polycarbonate plastic belongs to recycle code #7. So if you see a BPA-free claim, look for a triangle, which is a symbol of a recycle code. And if you see 7 inside of that triangle, there is a chance that this is polycarbonate plastic, although it might not be. Why?
Recycle code #7 is the “other” category and a few different types of plastic belong to it including polycarbonate, polyurethane, acrylic, fiberglass, nylon, and more environmentally friendly bio-plastic made from potatoes or corn starch. So your job is to recognize polycarbonate plastic. How do you do that?
Remember that BPA is used to make plastic clear and tough. So it would be plastic that is clear and firm, and not pliable. These would be products such as five-gallon water bottles, baby bottles, sports bottles, clear plastic cutlery, and salad containers.
So with a little investigation, you can save yourself from falling prey to BPA-free false assurances or panicking over every type of plastic. With that said, I am not saying that all other type of plastic are harmless. Avoid plastic with recycle codes number 3 and number 6 at all cost, too. But that is a story for another blog post.