+ Well Nourished | The truth about BPA-free

The truth about BPA-free

Words by Building Biologist and Naturopath, Nicole Bijlsma

Despite the fact that the Japanese phased out BPA as an epoxy resin in food tins since the late 1990s, western countries continue to use it in most food tins and other forms of packaging. Its ubiquitous use has meant that it is found in 90% of the female population and not surprisingly, its use has also correlated with an almost doubling in the incidence of breast cancer. A report – “Body of Evidence An Overview of the Low Dose Effects of BPA in Relation to Breast Cancer” provides an in-depth and well-referenced document outlining the concerns associated with the use of BPA in food packaging. And if you think buying BPA-free products is the way to go – THINK AGAIN! A 2011 study found over 90% of over 500 plastic products marketed as BPA-free, released chemicals that, in some cases, had greater oestrogenic activity than the BPA-containing plastics (Yang et al, 2011). When it comes to hormone disrupting chemicals, it is not the dose that determines how toxic they are, but the fact they are present at all. This is because it is the timing and duration of exposure that determines what impact these chemicals have on the body – not the dose. The lower the levels, the greater the response by the body. Therefore, babies and children SHOULD NOT drink from plastic containers.

So are BPA free plastics safe or are they just a reaction by manufacturer’s to satisfy consumer confidence?
So many manufacturers are using bisphenol-S as an alternative to BPA, which is also demonstrating hormone disrupting effects in animal studies and found in paper products such as receipts, toilet paper, tickets, magazines and the like.

BPA-free plastics that demonstrated hormone disrupting effects include polyethersulfone (7), polystyrene (3), polypropylene (5), Tritan Copolyester (7) and recycled PETE (1) 

There are several issues associated with BPA-free plastics:

  1. ALL PLASTICS LEACH CHEMICALS! There are thousands of chemicals (phthalates such as BBP and DEHP, bisphenol s (BPS), nonylphenol…) used in plastics, many of which are demonstrating hormone like effects in animal studies.  The type of chemicals that leach will depend on the type of plastic used and may include monomers, inks, plasticizers, benzene derivatives and additives (Simoneau, van den Eede and Valzacchi, 2011). The migration of these chemicals into our food and beverages is accelerated when plastics are exposed to heat and light which is why plastics should NEVER be heated in a microwave oven, kept in a hot car or put in a dishwasher (even the top shelf).
  2. There is no legislation to enforce plastic manufacturers to test their products for harmful effects or to prove they are safe. Like most household products, they can put whatever chemicals they like in their products. Consequently, the great majority of chemicals used to replace BPA such as bisphenol S, have not been tested for human health effects. Not surprisingly, many BPA-free bottles  such as Tritan Copolyester and Polyethersulfone are now displaying hormone disrupting effects (Dearing, 2009).
  3. Several BPA free drinking water bottles that were tested from global companies still contained BPA in minute quantities (CBC News 2009).

The inherent nature of plastics is to degrade when exposed to light and heat – no matter what resins they are derived from. Consequently, all plastic bottles will leach chemicals.

Here is Nicoles interview on Channel 10’s The Circle about plastics, early onset puberty and the increased risk of breast cancer. Worth a watch for sure (7 minutes).

In 2009, my husband Mark and I researched the possibility of developing our own range of drinking water bottles and our investigation led us to Asia (where the majority of drinking water bottles are manufactured). We were surprised to discover that the resin identification code or recycling number imprinted on plastics (the number in the triangle), only reveals the dominant resin used in the manufacture of that plastic – and NOT all the other chemicals used to manufacture it. The manufacturer insisted that it was industry practice to add other chemicals to make bottles transparent, shatterproof, softer, colour it and so on. Fortunately, we eventually found an Australian supplier who could provide us with raw (virgin) plastic made from polyethylene. Our Safe-T-Bottle range is available in all good health food and organic eco stores throughout Australia.

Store beverages and foods in glass, pyrex, stainless steel, or ceramics (that are not glazed). My children drink from stainless steel bottles.

Important – make sure the stainless steel bottles do not have an aluminium thread in the mouthpiece and are not lined with plastic.

Nicole Bijlsma is an accomplished Naturopath, Acupuncturist and Building Biologist who is the founder and CEO of the Australian College of Environmental Studies, and was instrumental in bringing building biology into Australia. Nicole is a popular public speaker and best-selling author on environmental health having featured on every major television network. Nicole writes a Healthy Home column for Body+Soul which is published in NewsCorp newspapers across Australia. Nicole is passionate about empowering people to create healthy homes. To find out more about Nicole and her amazing work, click HERE.

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  • Nicole Whittorn

    What about the safety of plastic lids on the stainless steel drink bottles?

    • Yes, I agree, there is no perfect solution. I personally buy wide screw top lids so my kids aren’t sucking through (and in their case, also chewing on) plastic mouthpieces. G x

      • Nicole Whittorn

        I worry that they will get lost!! I can’t find any that I’m really happy with. There are some with a leak proof valve that look quite good but still have the plastic components in the lid.

  • Brigitte James

    Thanks so much for that info Georgia! I’ve always wondered how safe they were and have read so many different things … I’ve been “meaning to” swap my daughters BPA Free baby bottles to metal ones but now I will. I’ve always been a bit dubious of which ones to buy though. We swapped ours over to the metal ones back when we traveled to Qld last and were able to buy some at the Eumundi markets. I’ve been slowly swapping everything over to glass … I don’t even like cooking in metal and my chef partner has a real problem with cakes being cooked in glass. i love the difference. So much more moist!

    • I’m also slowly chipping away too Brigette at minimising plastics in my home. It can be a bit head wrecking as most things have some exposure of sorts at some stage in their transit to our plate. So I control the things I can, and let go of the things I can’t. Good on you for making the switch – baby bottles are definitely best to be plastic free for sure G x

      • Brigitte James

        Hi Georgia. I’m back onto this “search” again. I need to get something for my daughter as she starts kindy this year and she keeps asking for something with Frozen on the front (of course). I certainly won’t be getting something with Frozen (the movie) on it but I thought it might be nice to get something with some kind of design on it that’s “girly”. They say that the Safe-T bottle has a mouth piece but do you know what kind? I like the pricing on these in comparison to others. It seems other companies say “stainless steel” bottles but don’t have much more info that. Do you know of any other “girly” brands that don’t include all the nasties? I started taking a look at Biome as well. I’m thinking of getting some containers for her lunches as well so if you have any good suggestions for that as well. I think I’m going to take the easy route at first and do sandwiches and gradually add more adventurous things. She’s rather fussy so I certainly don’t want her going hungry in those first weeks! Maybe this could be a post you could do for all those new mum’s sending their kids off for the first time (like me)?? :0)

        • Sorry Brigitte, I don’t have too much info to give you other than food grade stainless I believe, like glass is fairy standard. I know when my kids were little (and there was so much less in the way of safe options and ALL were completely ugly) I used to compromise on branded stuff by getting them branded bags/ holders (and PJs) – lol. It is tough striking a compromise.
          Funny I actually have that post planned for you this week – first time lunches and how to transition. In the mean time, I’d start giving her her lunch this week in her lunch box and talk her through eating from it. Sort of pre-conditioning. Hoe this helps G x

          • Brigitte James

            Thanks for the reply Georgia. I looked, and looked and either the bottle itself wasn’t right (not stainless steel or too big) or the nozzle wasn’t right for a four year old. I compromised in the end … After searching high and low (I wanted to see one in the flesh rather than online) even at my health food store, I ended up back at Woolworths. Stainless steel (as far as I’m aware) with fairies on the outside and a plastic pop up top (easy for her to open) … It said BPA free so that was my compromise. There’s a really big sell on the plastic bottles so there was a LOT of that type and she kept picking them up but I wasn’t going to compromise as much as that. The one I got even fits in her car seat drink holder and bag. A lot of them don’t.

          • Brigitte James

            Ha ha! Isn’t it crazy what we’ll do for our kids … Within reason … Yep, I try to minimise the branded stuff but it’s there … EVERYWHERE! And thank you for your post on lunches too. I’ve been doing lunches / picnics with her for some time now but over the last couple of weeks I’ve really stepped it up and trying out new healthy options (bars/snacks) from the supermarket which she won’t touch AND new containers for her. The things I’m trying out aren’t going down too well so far … I’ve ended up going back to the simple option of sandwiches with a yogurt and some fruit. I headed straight to the park with her after kindy the other day where she ate nearly the whole lot! :0)

  • Georgia

    this is great info and explained really well. Thanks so much Georgia. x

  • Kirsty

    I would love to hear your thoughts on the Thermomix lid & steamer etc. I would really love a Thermomix but after slowly replacing all my kitchen plastic with safer alternatives I just can’t get past heating & cooking food in plastic. I understand it is a polypropylene which they claim is safe but I’m just not sure. They have also had to put BPA back into some of the components due to cracking issues. I really, really want to get one but am hung up on the plastic parts!

    • Hi Kirsty. Funny, my road to discovering the TMX was because I couldn’t find a good food processor that wasn’t plastic! To be honest i don’t use the varoma at all, ever, and the bulk of my TMX use is to process or prep ingredients (or make sorbet/smoothies). When I do cook in it, I always leave the cap off so steam can escape. Not ideal, but I’m yet to come across a kitchen aid like it without plastic. G x

      • Kirsty

        Thanks Georgia, appreciate the info. I have a Vitamix which gets a workout so was super keen for a TMX that could replace it and cook too! I think I’ll just stick with it and hope TMX one day use a different material. I did write to them about it and they used to have a stainless steel lid but there were lots of burns so changed over to the plastic 🙁

        • I would absolutely pay extra for a SS lid (and also basket) – such a shame they haven’t pursued it. I recently bought a slow cooker and paid extra for a SS insert (it came with teflon insert). Good to have options G x

          • Anna Gebels

            Hi I hope this post is still monitored… but I need a slow cooker with a stainless insert can I ask which one you purchased?

          • I have a new wave one Anna but I’m not entirely happy with the way it cooks. My Facebook group will be able to help I’m sure, this is the link https://www.facebook.com/groups/625168747605153/ if you’d like to join and ask the group G x

  • Penny McKay

    My cupboard is full of Tupperware storing our food. How do you store foods in your pantry? Is it a big issue when they aren’t exposed to a lot of heat or light do you think?

    • I was much the same but have recently chosen to gradually swap for glass. I buy a couple of large glass mason jars from Woolworths whenever I’m there ($4) each and have been swapping over. I’ve started with the nuts and whole-grains (as oils/fats in them can take on the toxins from the plastic). Obviously this is worse when heated/frozen in plastic. G x

  • Akiko

    I always use Varoma of Thermomix to heat up my daughter’s dinner. I always put the food in a glass container and put it in the Varoma. I thought it would be okay because it doesn’t touch the plastic directly but after I read your comments below, I started to worry if the steam has chemicals from the plastic… Should I stop use Varoma? Please let me know your thoughts…

    • Akiko, I’m not 100% sure, but I think direct contact is the main issue. I personally always used my metal steam pot to heat like you do with the bowl inside. As no food touches the pot, there’s also no washing up and it’s also quick and easy. I have used my varoma to steam in glass or ceramic though when needing more room than my stainless steamer. Hope that makes sense G x

  • Rachel McDarra

    Hi Georgia, thanks for the information, I’ve been scouring your site all day! I have a question for you or Nicole – what is your take on the blue plastic lids that come with the glass Pyrex containers? And also, what about silicon seals on glass jars? Thank you.

    • Most of the glass storage containers come with plastic lids. I personally just try to avoid my food being in contact with the lid. Silicon seals are my preference over plastic if available to you G x

  • Nikki

    Hi Georgia, where does melamine sit amongst it all? I’ve always used good quality melamine for my kids hot meals but I’m guessing it’s also within the plastic family?

    • Nikki this is from Nicoles website …
      “My twins brought home these wondeful plates they had painted for my Xmas present. It was made from melamine. Melamine is increasingly used in dinnerware and unlike plastic, is not derived from petrochemicals and has all the benefits of plastic without the hormone disrupting effects. Melamine is used in the production of melamine resins, typically by reacting it with formaldehyde (a known carcinogen). It has many industrial uses, including in the production of laminates, glues, adhesives, moulding compounds, coatings and flame retardants. Unfortunately, it has a sordid history: first it caused kidney failure in Chinese children who drank infant formula from which it had been illegally added to, and then in 2007, there was a large outbreak of renal failure in cats and dogs in the USA associated with ingestion of pet food found to contain melamine and cyanuric acid. A recent 2013 study, found traces of melamine in food (Chai-Fang, 2013). The World Health Organization concluded that there was sufficient evidence that melamine can act as a carcinogen in animals, but inadequate evidence it acted the same in humans (WHO, 2008). My take on it, is to avoid it if you can.”

  • Hi Georgia, do you freeze food in glass? I’m a bit worried it will break.

  • Hi Jane, I do freeze in glass. I drive my husband mad because I always recycle jars (and he’s on washing up so the lazy boy would rather just throw them). The trick is to always leave room for expansion (so don’t over fill it) and let it cool down before freezing. G x

    • Thanks Georgia. Sounds like your husband and mine might have a lot in common, from that brief description! He is almost on board with the phasing out of plastic, but not quite….. 🙂

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