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Going BPA-Free: All Your Questions About BPA Answered

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Going BPA-Free: All Your Questions About BPA Answered

You've heard of BPA. You know it's not good for you. And the truth is, there’s a lot of fear around BPA and we are often advised to avoid it — but for many of us, that’s pretty much all we know.

But we're all about getting educated, so let’s take a deeper dive into BPA including what exactly it is, what items contain BPA, its safety, health impact, and if BPA-free plastic is really a better alternative.

What is BPA? 

BPA, short for Bisphenol A, is a chemical that is used in many plastic items as well as aluminum food containers. It is often added to plastics to help strengthen the material, whether that is food packaging or eyeglasses. Epoxy resin, a version of BPA, is often used to coat the lining of metal cans (like the ones you buy canned goods in), and even sometimes in our water supply pipes. 

What kinds of items contain BPA?

Many plastic containers, water bottles (disposable and even plastic reusable ones!), toiletries, and aluminum cans (like the ones you buy beans in) contain BPA. BPA is also used in CDs, eyeglass lenses, electronics, baby bottles, and even dental sealants, amongst others.

Is BPA harmful to humans?

If you want to know if BPA is harmful, it really depends who you ask. The FDA says it is relatively safe because of the low levels it is found in our foods, but many studies have shown otherwise. In fact, the UK has banned BPA in certain products (like baby bottles) and more countries are looking into restricting or banning BPA even further. 

BPA is considered an endocrine disrupter— which means it can throw your hormones or endocrine systems off balance. BPA has been shown to mimic estrogen, which means it is particularly problematic for fetuses and children— particularly in regards to their development, and can also effect one’s fertility. BPA has also been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease.

According to a CDC study, 93% of the 2517 individuals that they tested had traces of BPA in their urine.

 Stasher guacamole

Is BPA-free plastic really safe?

Well, here’s the tough part. Given the concerns around BPA, many brands are moving away from using the chemical, and opting to go BPA-free. Yet, since brands are moving away from BPA, they are still using other, similar compounds such as BPS, which allows them to label their items BPA-free while still having similar chemicals in their products which can cause similar side effects. A study by the NIH showed that even BPA-free plastic releases chemicals which could lead to health risks.


The best way to avoid BPA and its counterparts is to avoid plastic altogether, which we also know is better for our planet, and better for our bodies.


What does BPA-free really mean?

BPA-free simply means just that the item does not contain BPA. But, as mentioned above, that doesn’t mean it’s safe, clear of potential side effects, or that it doesn't contain other chemicals which are just as harmful to your body. 


How do I avoid the dangerous side effects of BPA?

The easiest way is to avoid buying items in plastic and canned foods. Not only is that better for the environment, but you will be certain to avoid BPA as well as other potential toxic ingredients found in the products.

If you already have plastic items you want to use, make sure you are avoiding heating the item — whether that’s by leaving it somewhere warm, or putting it in the microwave. This means you should also avoid putting plastic items in the dishwasher. This is due to the fact that plastic breaks down in water and heat, which means the chemicals can leech into your food. 

And avoid plastics that are #3 or #7— they aren’t guaranteed to have BPA, but these are the most likely plastics to contain them.

Instead of buying canned foods like beans, shop in the bulk section which will save you money, avoid waste, and of course, avoid the potential risks of BPA.

At home, use silicone, stainless steel, and glass containers for storage and heating or reheating your food. You can use Stasher bags or glass jars to bring food with you on the go, avoiding potential overheating in a plastic container.

And, of course, buy a BPA-free, plastic-free reusable water bottle to have on you at all times! This will save lots of plastic, money, and potential BPA side effects in the long haul. 


So, what’s the bottom line?

BPA is a hot topic, and there is a lot of debate around its safety. It’s best to steer clear of it knowing the potential dangers. Avoiding plastic is more important than ever for the health of our environment, and given the potential harm of BPA, for your health as well. Instead, opt for non-plastic and BPA-free items.


This post was written by Sara Weinreb. She is the host of the Medium Well podcast, sustainability and design thinking consultant, contributor at Forbes, and shares it all on Instagram.