What to Do When You See a “BPA-Free” Claim

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Last updated on November 30th, 2016

What-to-know-about-BPA-free-claims

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

 

What-to-do-about-BPA-free-claim

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.

What to know about BPA-free claimsPolycarbonate 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.

 

 

 

9 Responses

  1. Sarah

    The reason for the stainless steel BPA concerns was one company that was lining their steel water bottles with BPA and LYING about it.

    • Irina Webb

      Yes, that’s true. Aluminum bottles often have BPA lining. I had in mind stainless steel plates that have no lining whatsoever but still have a “BPA-free” claim. 🙂

  2. Anna

    This is such an important topic for me as a mom- and even before I had kids. I call myself ‘plastic paranoid’ and I use the pura stainless (tho kleen kanteen now makes stainless caps for their adult bottles pura is still the only company I know of that uses no plastic in their kids line). I think your readers would appreciate knowing that a study from 2011 reported that most BPA free plastics leach EAs and that the EA may even be in higher concentrations than BPA containing plastics. Scary stuff! Here is a link to the article on pubmed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21367689. It’s important to note that there was a comment on this publication that discusses the limitations of the study. The note regarding the publication can be found here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230411/ Thanks!

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Anna: Thank you so much for sharing! Yes, I am familiar with this study and I have been reminding my blog readers about it in many posts such as these ones: https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/products-i-like-plastic-free-toddler-bottle/ and https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/stainless-steel-dishes-for-child/. I’d like to empower people to make changes that are relatively easy for them. When you start small and grow bigger gradually, toxin-free living becomes sustainable. Not everybody can avoid all plastics but I believe everybody can avoid polycarbonate plastic, PVC, and styrene at least most of the time. I would love to hear your tactics avoiding plastic. I am also a plastic paranoid! 🙂

      • Anna

        Hi Irina! I’m a breast feeding mom but even long before pregnancy I took a look at my most used household items. I focused on food to start- water bottles, cookware/utensils, & food storage containers. I replaced everything with glass, stainless, silicone (never for baking, only utensils), or cast iron (tho I do admit to owning one small Teflon coated pan that I use when I make my eggs over-easy). I’m a regular coffee drinker and even ‘BPA free’ plastic coffee makers (even if they have glass/stainless pots) are suspicious. I switched to first using a french press, and now use a chemex- which I LOVE! I still use some canned food (coconut milk or LaCroix beverages for example) but canned goods are ALL lined with BPA containing plastics, which is mind boggling considering this 2011 study at Harvard School for Public Health http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/canned-soup-bpa/

        I pump since I work fill-time, but I pump into the plastic containers that fit my pump parts and immediately transfer to glass bottles to prevent leaching from occurring. For excess milk, even though the plastic bags are BPA free and virgin plastics, I started using small mason jars to store my frozen milk. Once my son started solids, I’ve been making 95% of his food. Instead of plastic (or silicone) ice-cube trays I simply plop prepared food onto wax paper then put it in air tight glass containers once frozen. I put all his food into glass jars so that if its heated it’s done in glass!

        What you say is true- it’s overwhelming to think about all the places toxins can be! So I’m starting little by little. I’m transitioning into using essential oil based cleaning products and beauty products that I make myself, which as you guessed it will all be in glass bottles (essential oils have solvent properties and cause plastics to leach).

  3. Valerie

    We are in the market for a new coffee maker… any suggestions as to which ones are the most toxic free?

  4. Kellen

    I have a question for you, love your website by the way I have been using it to select ALL my organic products. Question is.. I have been using the Baby Brezza Formula Maker Pro for my baby which has a “BPA Free” claim, so because that plastic is grey and not clear there was no danger of BPA? What are your thoughts on this?

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Kellen: the plastic is still see through… The best is to ask them what type of plastic it is. Ask them the name of the plastic and its recycle code. Let us know what you find out. Thanks! ~Irina

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