by Kate Hehyoe
Recently, BPA’s been making headlines, but often with incomplete information. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a widely used chemical that can leach from packaging into foods and liquids.
As canned and frozen packaged foods go, BPA presents a real dilemma. It’s so ubiquitous, it’s even in soda cans. From Con-Agra to Carnation, Annie’s Naturals to Whole Foods, and conventional to organic, we’ve been eating products with BPA-packaging for more than fifty years.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest stops short of putting all BPA-lined containers (including cans) on the do-not-use list. But it does note that pregnant women, fetuses, infants and children are more at risk than the general population because BPA mimics estrogen, a hormone that affects brain development.
In early 2008, the Food and Drug Administration concluded that BPA-packaged products “are safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects…At this time, FDA is not recommending that anyone discontinue using products that contain BPA while we continue our risk assessment process. However, concerned consumers should know that several alternatives to polycarbonate baby bottles exist, including glass baby bottles.”
But in September 2008, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and released before federal hearings linked exposure to bisphenol A with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities in adults.
Other studies suggest that as BPA leaches into ground water, it may harm fish and plants over time. (BPA does have a short half-life, chemically speaking, but it’s everywhere; as a polycarbonate component, it’s found in everything from CDs to medical equipment to fire retardant.)
The food safety issues are really just opening up. Things you should know about BPA include:
- If you see #7 in the recycling symbol on a plastic bottle or frozen food container, it may contain BPA. But #7 is a catch-all category, so it also includes both BPA and non-BPA containers.
- PVC containers marked as #3 can contain BPA in their plasticizers, but not all do.
- Any container of hard, clear plastic is likely to contain BPA, unless otherwise noted.
- BPA leaches out 55 times faster when exposed to hot liquids.
The good news is that non-BPA alternatives do exist. They’re either not widespread or not promoted as BPA-free. For instance:
- Eden-brand uses non-BPA cans for their beans (but not for their tomatoes).
- Aseptic containers (as with tomatoes) and pouched packages (as with tuna) are non-BPA alternatives to cans.
- For non-BPA plastic soda and water bottles, look for recycling symbols with 1 (PETE).
- Stainless steel and glass make good alternatives to hard plastic, polycarbonate bottles.
With increased consumer demand, more manufacturers will get the BPA out. You’ll probably never see labels stating the package contains BPA, but the brands that voluntarily go BPA-free will be smart to let us know.
This article is excerpted in part from Kate Heyhoe’s book (Da Capo Press, April 2009):
Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen—the New Green Basics Way
*Hundreds of tips and over 50 energy- and time-saving recipes to shrink your “cookprint”
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Brown bag lunches, wrapping up turkey leftovers, fall potlucks and festive tailgatings ramp up our use of plastic wrap, storage bags, trash bags, and paper products—all of which have greener options these days. But some can be pricey. Natural Value makes a full line of planet-friendly products at affordable prices, including plastic wrap and storage bags with no plasticizers or PVCs, unbleached recycled lunch bags, unbleached waxed paper bags, recycled paper products, home-compostable plates, and a full line of detergents, scrubbers, baby wipes, and trash bags with eco-positive aspects. They even make unbleached parchment paper (gourmet cooks listen up!). The Natural Value brand sells organic foods ranging from coconut milk from pasta to popcorn; some are also kosher. Got cats? Their cat food contains no preservatives, byproducts or coloring. Check out these products:
by Kate Hehyoe
I’ve always thought the typical process of plastic recycling was more labor and resource intensive than it needs to be. Apparently, some brilliant students at Princeton thought the same thing and in 2001 launched a poster-child for zero-carbon eco-businesses, known as TerraCycle.
Essentially, they pay consumers and school groups for used bottles or other containers, repurposing the containers without breaking them down. They fill plastic soda bottles, for instance, with natural worm-enhanced fertilizer, stick a colorful sleeve over the bottle as a label, and sell the products online and at stores as diverse as Home Depot, Gardener’s Supply and Whole Foods.
They’ve totally nailed the business dynamics down: they’re truly eco-friendly, low-impact and low-cost, true recyclers, and their inventory has expanded to include rain barrels and composters made from oak wine casks; fashion bags, totes and backpacks from drink pouches; spray cleaners, bird feeders, and deer repellent (again in plastic soda bottles); and potting soil, seed starters, and tomato food, all happy and active with “worm poop” generated from organic waste.
The backstory behind the business is too cool to pass up (the guys won a million dollar business contest, but turned the prize down because they didn’t like the constraints it came with.) Check out Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer’s story in the video at TerraCycle’s website. And we’re big fans: The Global Gourmet’s garden blooms big and happy with TerraCycle Plant Food.