If you're anything like me, you probably avoid most plastic stuff because it's not only awful for the environment, but can leach hormone disruptors into our water, food, and ultimately, our bodies. Many of these issues have been blamed on a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) which can be found in plastic food containers, linings of metal food cans, and even baby bottles and pacifiers.
You've probably found some great BPA-free alternatives – specifically, I use tomatoes and tuna in BPA-free cans – but you may have re-usable water bottles or give your kids sippy cups or lunch containers that are touted as BPA-free plastic.
SO… You may also be appalled to learn that BPA-free plastic isn't safe after all.
I know I am, but I guess I'm really not surprised either.
Why BPA-free plastic is a problem
BPA-free plastics are turning out to be just as dangerous as the products they've replaced. A peer-reviewed study published by Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that almost all plastics, no matter what type (BPA-free or not) were found to leach estrogen disruptors. In fact, some BPA-free products actually released more harmful chemicals than the original products that clearly contained bisphenol-A. (source)
So why is harmful plastic still being used?
Basically, regulating the safety of plastics is a political mess.
One glaring problem is that the laws governing chemical manufacturing do not require new chemicals to be safety-tested before they go on the market. Companies are rarely required to collect or disclose safety data: these chemicals are just presumed to be safe until proven otherwise, often after damage is already done. (source)
Because of this, it is virtually impossible to even know the exact chemical composition of any commercially available plastic part. A plastic item like a baby bottle can contain almost 100 undisclosed chemicals, so a product labeled as BPA-free (or free of any other known toxin) may still have component parts that actually contain harmful chemicals anyway. (source)
According to Michael Green, director for the Center for Environmental Health, “Corporations that come under pressure to root out toxins often replace them with untested chemicals, which sometimes turn out to be just as hazardous.”
On top of all of this, research is often biased because companies pay laboratories to misrepresent the testing, or use outdated studies to prove points that are in their favor.
What about silicone?
Silicone on its own is an inert element that is safe to land, aquatic, and soil organisms. That said, silicone is quite new to the market as a replacement for non-stick baking gear and in place of plastic food storage, baby bottle nipples, etc. As such, we can't be certain that the components used with the silicone are safe.
I hate to say this, but as much I love my French Silpat baking mats, silicone may fall into the same boat of risk as plastics due to similar “unknowns.” I won't be using any brightly colored silicone muffin cups. But I still think that medical grade silicone is a decent alternative when it comes to sippy cup spouts and baby bottle nipples.
There are also these 100% natural rubber nipples.
As for my Silpat baking mats, I haven't yet decided, since parchment paper is also lined with a thin layer of silicone.
Check out this mama's exploration of the research and decide for yourself.
Is all this plastic drama really that big of a deal?
Over 130 studies have linked BPA exposure to health concerns such as breast cancer and obesity. Mammals are especially vulnerable to these estrogen altering plastics, resulting in hormonal issues that range from early puberty in females and fertility problems to increased cancer rates – especially breast, ovarian, testicular and prostate. (source)
Not only do these endocrine-disrupting chemicals cause disease, but new research suggests that they may be altering genes in a way that can increase likelihood of disease in offspring as well. A biology professor from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Fredrick vom Saal, states, “A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.” (source)
Time to break up with plastic for good
We can basically assume that any type of plastic can be potentially harmful. So the question then remains, how can you protect yourself, your family, and the environment against the problems of plastic?
I don't know about you, but rather than lobby for better regulations over plastics, I'd rather vote with my dollar and avoid plastics as much as possible.
Here's what I suggest:
Use glass or stainless steel instead of plastic for food serving and storage
- Glass food storage – I use this set and lots and lots of mason jars (making sure not to have hot food touch the lids)
- Stainless steel lunch boxes – We have several of these on rotation
- Reusable bottles – This is my favorite insulated stainless steel bottle and I also love these silicone sleeved glass bottles
- Party or picnic – Go bamboo with these utensils that can be used again and again before they are ready to be composted
- Baby gear – Natural rubber pacifiers, stainless steel sippy cups, glass baby bottles, and medical grade latex bottle nipples are currently the best options available
Packaged food alternatives
While most packaged food is nasty junk that you should be skipping anyway, there are certain things that are still convenient, that I consider to be healthy (if we can avoid toxins from packaging).
You can find out if your favorite canned foods are lined with BPA on this list. But the best choice to avoid toxicity from plastics is to go with glass jars.
Unfortunately, those handy eco-friendly tetra packs fall in the same miscellaneous category as silicone: unknown – read more here.
Be aware of hidden sources of toxic plastics
Before you agree to teeth sealants, you may want to ask your dentist about the material that he/she will be using. Many are known to contain BPA, let alone unknown plastics.
Thermal receipt paper (you know, the one that babies like to grab and chew on as you check out of the grocery store?) is coated with BPA. Wash your hands after handling thermal receipt paper and keep them away from kids, or better yet, go paperless whenever possible.
Now, I didn't write this to get y'all freaked out about plastic, plastic everywhere.
The purpose of this post is to shed some light, not paralyze you.
To be 100% honest, I'm not going to stop buying my favorite canned tomatoes, my coconut oil in hard plastic, or my coconut milk in tetra packs. Use the 80/20 rule or you will go cuckoo.
Use this information, start talking and reading, and decide for yourself where you draw the line with BPA-free plastics and other modern substances that we take for granted as being safe.
Will you avoid BPA-free plastic or ignore these issues and hope for the best?