When we think of BPA, the first thing that usually comes to mind are reusable water bottles. But BPA is found in far more consumer products than just water bottles and it is nearly impossible to avoid altogether. Luckily, we can reduce our exposure significantly with a just a little awareness and a few practical changes.
A quick point of clarification
Single-use water bottles — the ones we buy, drink, and toss (hopefully in the recycle bin) — do not contain BPA. These water bottles are made with a different chemical of concern: phthalates, which are used to make plastics softer and more flexible.
The bottles we are referring to in this article are the reusable kind that we buy as a responsible alternative to bottled water. Specifically we are talking about the crystal clear, rigid, shatter-proof plastic bottles. These plastics contain BPA.
What is BPA?
BPA (or Bisphenol A) is a chemical compound linked to a range of serious health issues including obesity, diabetes, early onset of puberty, infertility, reproductive cancers and behavioral issues in children.
A study reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates the majority of our BPA exposure comes from:
- Canned foods and beverages
- Meals prepared outside the home (i.e. restaurants, school lunches)
- Plastic trays from frozen prepared meals
- Microwaving food in BPA-containing plastics
The good news is that BPA is quickly processed and eliminated by the body. The NIH study shows that switching from a diet of packaged foods to a diet of fresh foods can reduce BPA levels in the body by as much as 66% in just three days.
Here are a few tips to reduce your everyday exposure to BPA.
Read the label on canned foods
BPA is used in the liner of canned goods to help protect and preserve the food and beverages inside. Examples include canned soda, juices, beer, fruits, vegetables, soups and baby formula.
Look for canned goods labeled as BPA-free. And when buying beer or soft drinks, choose glass bottles over aluminum cans. Similarly, when buying pasta sauce, baby food and other goods, choose glass jars over cans. (Pasta sauce, baby food, etc.)
When buying pre-made soups and meals, choose those packaged in Tetra Pak over cans. Or if time is on your side, choose fresh or frozen ingredients to make your own meals, rather than buying them premade.
Check your plastic food & drink containers
BPA is used to make plastic strong, light, heat-resistant and difficult to shatter. Examples include clear, rigid food and drink containers, mobile phones, eye glasses and DVDs. Avoid plastic containers that are not labeled as BPA-free. Choose glass or stainless steel food containers instead.
The release of BPA from plastic is accelerated by heat, acid, fat and abrasion. So if you do use a container made with BPA, do not fill it with foods or drinks that are acidic (e.g. lemons, orange juice), fatty (e.g. milk) or hot (e.g. coffee). Also, do not wash it with harsh detergents or use it to heat food in the microwave.
Receipts, tickets, boarding passes and movie stubs
BPA helps to develop the ink of thermal paper. Examples include receipts from cash registers, gas station pumps and ATMs, airline & train boarding passes, lottery tickets, ultrasound printouts, parking tickets and ballgame & movie stubs.
Wash your hands after touching thermal paper, especially before eating or preparing food. And don’t let children hold your receipts.
Decline receipts at the ATM and grocery store. Opt for emailed receipts when offered. And opt for digital tickets for airlines, sporting and live theater events, movies and more. Present the digital ticket from your phone rather than printing it out.
Never crumple your receipts. Doing so increases your exposure to BPA. And never put receipts or other thermal paper in the recycle bin, because the chemicals contaminate the recycling stream.
A key way to reduce your baby’s exposure to BPA is to choose baby food packaged in jars instead of cans. Or even better, make it fresh.
The FDA banned the use of BPA in plastic sippy cups and baby bottles in 2012, so avoid hand-me-down baby products made prior to 2012. Look for plastic containers and other products that are specifically labeled as BPA-free.
Choose toys and other products made from natural materials. For example, choose wooden toys over plastic. And skip the synthetic rubber teethers with plastic handles, in favor of teethers made form natural rubber and natural fibers.
Good to know
- Moms take note: babies may be exposed to BPA in the womb or through nursing, so this is a particularly important time to reduce exposure.
- Stainless steel and glass water bottles — both excellent alternatives to plastic — come in kid sizes too.
- Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). 2012. Association Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration and Obesity Prevalence in Children and Adolescents. September 19, Vol, 308, No. 11.