Is There Such a Thing As “Safe” Plastics? Are We Sure?

I think most parents these days know that there are issues with plastics containing bisphenol-A (BPA). There’s a reason why more and more plastic goods, especially those aimed at children, are being advertised as BPA-free. But is that really enough? Are other types of plastic safer?

The problem with BPA is that it’s estrogenic – that is, it mimics estrogen in the body. You don’t want that, and naturally parents are picky about such things going into the bodies of their children. That’s why there was such a fuss that manufacturers decided to use other plastics which don’t contain BPA.

Does that mean other plastics are safe? Unfortunately, that’s questionable, according to a new study.

It’s a long study, an interesting read if you like that sort of thing, but here’s the basic result: almost all plastics leach chemicals that have estrogenic activity (EA). Some BPA-free products released chemicals with more estrogenic activity than plastics with BPA.

So much for the much-vaunted BPA-free plastics.

Not all of the plastics released chemicals with EA at first, but common uses such as putting them in the microwave or dishwasher increased the release.

What Should Parents Do?

Now of course more study should be done, but heck, folks, you have options other than plastic. Not like we have to serve or save foods in plastic. There are options. Plastic, after all, isn’t that good a deal environmentally speaking anyhow.

You can use glass or stainless steel containers and dishes when possible, for example. You may not be able to avoid plastics in your dishes entirely, but there are options such as Klean Kanteen’s sippy bottle which at least minimizes the use of plastic. It uses some, but they say it’s supposed to be non-leaching and is BPA-free, for what that’s worth. It’s still less plastic than other sippy cups where the drink is held in a plastic cup rather than a stainless steel bottle.

Don’t put any plastic dishes or containers you have in the microwave or dishwasher. It’s the heat that increases the leaching. Use glass or other safe materials in the microwave.

It’s tough to serve young children with breakable dishes, but you do have alternatives. You can buy stainless steel dishes or look for tempered glass dishes, which are significantly stronger than regular glass dishes. Wood is another option, although it may be more difficult to care for.

I get a lot of my glass storage containers from bottles of spaghetti sauce. The shape is a bit awkward, and doesn’t work for everything, but it’s a place to start. There are glass storage containers you can buy if you want more practical shapes.

And on the plus side, if you just can’t give up your plastic yet, leaching does decrease over time. It’s not perfect, and the exposure still happens, but at least the numbers go down.

Plastic toys are good to avoid, but in terms of leaching, the best thing is to not let your kids put plastic toys in their mouth. That won’t stop all exposure, as little hands go in little mouths, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Don’t Panic

Estrogenic compounds may well be worth avoiding, but it’s not something to panic about. Take your time, think about it, and do what’s practical for you. I don’t know if it would work, but if you want to leach out some of the chemicals before exposing your family, you could always expose your plastics to known stressors several times before use. I have no idea how often is enough, so don’t ask. There are sources of BPA exposure beyond the plastics you can choose whether or not to use, so this is mostly a matter of limiting it where you can.

It may also help to remember that there are many risks in life that we can’t control. That’s just the way it is. It’s still a good idea to think about your exposure to chemicals leached from plastic, but it’s not panic-worthy.