One chemical under intense scrutiny is bisphenol-A (BPA), a substance used to make polycarbonate plastics — tough, high-performance plastic material found in the lining of tin cans and used to create reusable, high-performance plastic containers.
Ingesting BPA is a concern because this chemical is classified as an endocrine disruptor which is a substance that interferes with the body’s natural hormone system. BPA has estrogenic properties and will bind to the body’s estrogen receptors. In short, our bodies think this chemical is the natural hormone and will use it to regulate our entire endocrine system. According to the World Health Organization, endocrine disruptors are linked to decreased sperm quality, early puberty, neurobehavioral problems and cancer.
Where can you find it? It’s in our food! BPA is detected in people who have ingested the chemical through food or liquids stored in plastic containers or plastic-lined cans. Food is a big marker for bisphenol-A because it slowly leaches out from containers.
Learning what plastic containers are safe to store consumables in and which plastics to avoid is the best way to reduce your BPA exposure. However, it is nearly impossible to avoid plastic altogether.
The easiest way to identify plastics containing BPA is to look for the recycling symbol #7 – generally hard, durable plastic products you can see through. Examples include some Tupperware containers, Nalgene bottles, and some baby bottles. The newer the product the more stable and safe it is, but over time and especially after heating, the polymers break down and allow BPA and other chemicals to migrate into foods. It is recommended to use safer plastic products with recycling symbols or “PETE” numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5. Commercial water bottles, for example, have a recycling symbol 1. Gladware is a 5. Although these are safer, the bottles are not designed for re-use nor should the Gladware be heated.
The following are some easy tips to make your food as plastic-free as possible:
• Buy fresh or dried fruits and vegetables and store them in cloth or glass containers.
• Bring a large glass to work and refill it with water instead of using a plastic Nalgene bottle.
• Eat less canned food from plastic-lined cans, soaking lentils or beans overnight.
• Wrap sandwiches in wax paper instead of plastic baggies.
• If you’re transporting food in reusable containers, bring a dish to heat it up.
• Further reduce your use of canned goods by making your own sauces, preserves and jams.