The Problem With ‘Safe’ Plastic

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Here’s something to consider. What if all that BPA-free vetting you’ve been doing is for naught, because the BPA alternatives are just as bad as the original? Turns out, for the last decade we’ve been subject to a massive chemical safety deception.

BPA-Free Plastic: Is it Really 'Safe'?

It began with Bisphenol A (BPA), the definitive culprit. It was shown to impersonate hormones such as estrogen, and it is associated—though not definitely linked—to a broad range of health problems, including cancers and cardiovascular disease.

BPA first came into the spotlight in 2007, when parents took to legislatures to demand a ban on bisphenol-A (BPA). In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration in 2012 banned BPA from baby bottles and children’s cups. For almost a decade, a number of manufacturers have since removed it from water bottles and food containers. It’s been a victory, for sure, but perhaps a misleading one.

BPA’s replacements, related compounds like bisphenol-S (BPS) or bisphenol-F (BPF), actually appear to have similar (if not worse!) hormone-disrupting effects. The chemicals have the same function as BPA, which equates to a similar molecular structure, and hence similar health effects.

In a new study in Endocrinology, researchers found that BPS has nearly identical hormone-mimicking effects as BPA in zebrafish, a typical organism used to study genetics and development.  According to an article posted on the website Ars Technica, “In the study, researchers found that BPS, like BPA, altered nerve cell development, changed the activity level of genes involved in developing the reproductive system, and caused early hatching (the fish equivalent of premature birth).”

The takeaway? We still don’t know enough about plastic safety. Until we know more, sticking to leach-free materials like glass or stainless steel as much as possible seems to be the smartest strategy.

Here are a few ways (courtesy of the EWG and NRDC) to minimize your exposure to questionable plastics.

Store and heat your food and drinks in ceramic or glass food containers (like Pyrex).

When using an electric mixer, choose glass or Pyrex instead of plastic to avoid chipping bits of plastic into your food.

Use wooden cutting boards—but care for them properly to minimize bacteria. Spray your wooden board with a mist of vinegar, then with a mix of hydrogen peroxide, to sanitize.

Cover food in the microwave with a paper towel instead of plastic wrap.

In place of soft plastic lunchboxes made with PVC (one of the toxic plastics), try organic cotton lunch sacks or stainless steel lunchboxes or containers.

For beverages, use canteens or bottles made of stainless steel or glass.

Avoid single-use, disposable packaging.

Buy food in glass or metal containers.

Bring your own containers to salad bars, yogurt shops, etc. —anywhere you’ll be served in plastic.

Avoid plastic cutlery and dinnerware, especially when cooking or heating food; use stainless steel, wooden or plant-based utensils and look for recycled paper products.

When purchasing cling-wrapped food from the supermarket or deli, slice off a thin layer where the food came into contact with the plastic and store the rest in a glass or ceramic container, or non-PVC cling wrap.