Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nix the Nalgene: health concerns of reuseable plastics

Many people trying to reduce comsumption by using reusable plastics may soon be reevaluating their decision. Recent news is saturated with stories about polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic widely used in many different applications. The problem with polycarbonate is that it contains bisphenol A, BPA, a controversial chemical that has recently come under scrutiny for concerns that it causes a wide array of health problems.

BPA has also been linked in animal studies to a vast number of health problems: increase risk of breast/prostate cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, miscarriages and other reproductive failures, and has caused chemical changes in behavior and in the brain causing hyperactivity in children. It is debated whether or not small dosages throughout fetal development and infancy are part of the cause for the dramatic increase in autism.

Each year the US produces 6 million pounds of BPA, a number that has increased 5 times since 1980. It is found in hard plastic water bottles, including baby bottles, plastic wrap, DVDs, CDs, eyeglasses, lining on metal cans, and even dental sealants and in cosmetics. BPA leaches out form the plastic as it is reused. The more you reuse, the more seeps out. If you microwave or wash polycarbonate plastic in a dishwasher, heat increases the amount of BPA released from the plastic, and as the hard, clear, plastic becomes cloudy in appearance, even more BPA leaks out.

Health Canada has already passed policy to pull all baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA from the shelves, and Wal-Mart, our nations largest retailer, has agreed to do the same both in Canada and the US within the year. So far, in the US, the National Institute of Health, under the guidelines of the National Toxicoligy Program, has found that BPA may pose risks to fetuses, pregnant women, infants, and children. Why hasn't our government followed Canada's example and banned BPA? There aren't any human studies to back up the findings of animal studies, although many experts and doctors for years have recommended against the use of BPA. The chemical industry claims that BPA in polycarbonate plastics are in traces too low to harm humans.

While we wait for policy to catch up with science, there are many things you can do to avoid BPA, starting with using non-reuseable plastics, a shocker to all of us trying to be green. Also, try to avoid plastics with a recycling number of 7, don't microwave in plastic, or using plastic wrap, and use disposable baby bags in bottles for children, or those made out of BPA free plastic, or glass.

While doing research on this, I read several blogs from people talking about how seemingly impossible it is to avoid plastic use. A total aside from all scientific findings; I remember first hearing about the dangers of plastics as a fairly small child. Coming from ex-hippy parents, we had several fruit trees, as well as a fruit and vegetable garden large enough for us to can our produce to use throughout the year. As an adult, I don't have a dishwasher or microwave, and cook small amounts of food to avoid waste, largely eliminating the need for plastic storage containers and plastic wrap. It's times like these that I thank my parents for being so weird growing up, although cable would have been nice.

1 comment:

Albert Swantner said...

According to the University of Bonn, using dishwashers actually use half the energy, one-sixth the water, and less soap than handwashing an identical set of dirty dishes. Also, they clean the dishes better. This is also assuming your dishwasher has been manfactured since 1994. So, apparently using a dishwasher is greener than washing them yourself.