A few months ago, when I was researching baby bottles for my daughter, I came across several articles on the use of Bisphenol A in the plastics used to make baby bottles and its harmful effects on health. More research led to me alter my lifestyle and become more environmentally friendly. So, based on the various articles I’ve read, a brief description of what you need to know about BPA and how to avoid it is given below.
(1) What is BPA?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound invented by Russian chemist Aleksandr P. Dianin in 1891. The first reported synthesis of BPA was from Thomas Zincke of the University of Marburg, Germany. The suffix ‘A’ symbolizes Acetone as BPA is prepared by the condensation of acetone with two equivalents of phenol.
(2) What is BPA used for?
In 1936, Dr. Pierre Castan (Switzerland) and Dr. S.O. Greenlee (US) first synthesized BPA-based epoxy resins. Epoxy resins are widely used in adhesives, can linings, composite materials like those using carbon fibre, fibreglass, etc.
In 1953, Dr. Hermann Schnell of Bayer in Germany and Dr. Dan Fox of General Electric in the United States independently developed manufacturing processes for a new plastic material, polycarbonate, using BPA as the starting material. Due to its properties of optical clarity, shatter resistance and high heat resistance, polycarbonate soon found its way into our everyday lives as the primary constituent material in drinking bottles, optical discs, lenses, automobile headlamps, lab equipment, etc.
(3) Why do I need to bother about BPA?
As described above, BPA has invaded our everyday lives via the use of polycarbonates and epoxy resins. Several studies on BPA have indicated that at certain levels of consumption, it could cause endocrine disruption (interference with the normal functioning of hormones generated by the endocrine system), heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Some studies have also linked BPA to obesity and neurotoxicity.
BPA has been known to leach from the plastic lining of canned foods and also from polycarbonate plastics when subjected to washing with abrasive detergents, acidic liquids and high-temperature liquids.
Although there have been some reports that BPA used in polycarbonates and epoxy resins for common consumer products does not pose a health risk, there are two clearly divided opinions on the harmful effects on BPA with each one backed up by various studies, Canada has banned the import, sale and marketing of polycarbonate baby bottles and companies like Wal-Mart, Nalgene, Camelbak and Toys-R-Us have switched to BPA-free bottles and plastic goods. Surely then, the safest bet is to stay away from BPA.
(4) How do I identify which products have BPA?
BPA is predominantly used in plastics, being a constituent material of polycarbonate. First and foremost, you need to understand the various groups of plastics. Read this article to understand how to decipher the Plastic Identification Code(PIC). Plastic products with PIC #3 (PVC) and #7 (other) are typically associated with BPA. Since PIC #7 is a catch-all for all types of plastics other than those classified within PIC #1 to #6, plastics that do not contain BPA could also be identified with PIC #7. For example, leading water bottle manufacturers CamelBak and Nalgene use Eastman Tritan (a copolyester plastic that does not contain BPA) and their bottles are tagged with PIC #7.
Other than using the PIC to determine whether your plastic product is BPA-free, a safe bet is to choose plastic products which bear a BPA-Free logo. The safest and best option to stay away from BPA is to replace your plastic product with good quality stainless steel, wherever possible.
(5) How do I avoid BPA?
Given the widespread use of BPA, it’s unlikely that you can completely stay away from every product that contains the chemical. However, you can significantly reduce, if not eliminate the consumption of BPA. Here are some steps you can take to avoid the harmful effects of BPA:
Use either BPA-free or stainless steel reusable bottles for drinking liquids. Do not reuse mineral water bottles.
Do not heat food in plastic containers (irrespective of the PIC) in a microwave.
Do not use harsh detergents or the dishwasher to wash plastic containers.
Do not store acidic liquids and foods (eg. orange juice, meat marinades) in plastic containers.
Avoid using canned food/drink as much as possible.
What I have done to avoid BPA since I became aware of the controversy surrounding it:
First and foremost, I replaced my daughter’s feeding bottles with BPA-free versions from ASDA. Now, there is an increasing number of manufacturers making BPA-free baby bottles. Some examples are Tommee Tippee, Born Free and Philips AVENT.
I then ordered a CamelBak Better Bottle (BPA-Free) for use as a drinking water bottle at office and when it arrived, I observed that it had PIC #7, but no BPA-Free logo. So, I returned the CamelBak bottle. After a little bit of googling, I came across the stainless steel Klean Kanteen. I purchased two Klean Kanteens, an 18 oz Kanteen for office and a 40 oz Kanteen for use at home. I love the Klean Kanteens and no longer use any plastics at home or office for consumption of drinking water. Although the Klean Kanteen is an expensive purchase, it will definitely be cheaper in the long run and will contribute towards a clean, green environment through reuse. Before the arrival of my Klean Kanteen, I bought 500 ml mineral water bottles at least twice a week and after consumption, I chucked the bottles away into the recycling bin. Now, with my reusable Klean Kanteen, not only do I save money by not purchasing mineral water, I also ensure that I reduce my burden on recycling, even if in a small way.