Plastic Bottle: Dangerously Convenient?

Posted on December 15, 2010


[ For those of you who are busy…If you scroll to the bottom, there are quick and concise guidelines that show the ways in which you can minimize the possible negative effects of plastics. ]

Plastic bottle, and for that matter plastic itself, is a wonderfully convenient invention. It’s light and sturdy. We can (when indicated) microwave it and toss it into the washing machine. There’s nothing that it can’t handle. Well, except for the increasing public scrutiny over whether plastics are safe for humans or not.

Plastic is made up of a chemical compound called Bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA), a synthetic estrogen. BPA has been a constant debate among health officials and food companies concerning its safety. BPA is in most plastics and is used in the production of various types of food and drink containers, electronics and automobile parts, and as a liner in some metal cans. It’s basically everywhere and especially in your food.

Commercial uses of BPA exploded in the 1950s after scientists discovered its ability to make plastics more durable and shatterproof. By 1963, scientists were using it to create linings for steel cans, which held up under heat and other extreme conditions. Because the BPA linings extended the shelf life of canned goods, did not affect taste, prevented bacterial contamination and were relatively cheap, they became the industry standard by the 1970s. It seems that BPA is one of the many, many human inventions that were intended to help us but, ironically, end up hurting us.

Those who oppose the use of BPA site its dangerous health effects such as cancer, genetic abnormalities, and sexual dysfunction to name a few. It was shown that 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine. You and I are carrying synthetic estrogen in our bodies. Not to go all Alien-y (I’m referring to the Sigourney Weaver movie.) on you but we are carrying something that is not naturally produced within our own body! That just can’t be good.

Scientists have been trying show BPA’s negative effects and with some convincing results. For example, published journal articles have found that BPA given to pregnant rats or mice can cause malformed genitals in their offspring, as well as reduced sperm count among males. Reproductive Toxicology found that even low-level exposure to BPA led to mouse equivalent of early puberty for females. And array of animal studies link prenatal BPA exposure to breast cancer and prostate cancer. Ladies, gentlemen, and babies, it seems that we are in a bit of a trouble.

On the other hand, the chemical and food industry and FDA are calm about BPA’s widespread use. Proponents of BPA argue against the abovementioned experiments by saying that it’s not clear whether BPA’s effect on animals can be assumed to be the same for humans. Plastic industries vigorously defend BPA, noting that it has been used for 50 years without any problem (and, if I might add, that it’s ridiculously profitable for you guys). The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the FDA, which oversees the use of BPA in food and beverage containers, are reviewing the chemical in light of new research. But, their general tone is that BPA in low quantity is negligible.

The debate will likely continue for a while and we won’t know which side is right. But at least in Canada, they are sure about their stance on BPA. In October 2008, Canada became the first country in the world to ban the import and sales of baby bottles containing BPA. The fed also announced that it would devote $1.7 million over three years to study the chemical. Go Canada!


In the meanwhile for those of us who aren’t living in Canada, there are ways to minimize our exposure to BPA.

1.      If possible, use glass, stainless steel or porcelain containers, especially for hot food or liquids.

2.      For baby bottles, choose glass or look for hard plastic bottles without BPA. They can be found at health food stores and some baby stores.

3.      For preserved goods, opt for glass jars or canned goods that do not have liners containing BPA.

And in more general terms…

Plastics: BPA is often found in polycarbonate plastic food containers that are marked with “PC” or with the recycling number 7. Plastics with the recycling label numbers 1, 2 and 4 do not contain BPA. (You can find these numbers at the bottom or your plastic bottle/container.)

Water bottles: Some metal water bottles are lined with a coating that contains BPA. Use stainless steel bottles that are not lined or plastic bottles that are clearly marked BPA-free. Avoid old or scratched plastic bottles.

Heating: Avoid microwaving foods or liquids in polycarbonate plastic containers. Use glass or ceramic containers instead.


I know this entry hasn’t been really in accord with the holiday spirit but now at least we know not to reheat Christmas ham in plastic container!



Posted in: Everyday Things, Food