Plastic is not so fantastic!

Written by Changing Habits

August 13, 2010

Not only is the food important that we consume but so are the containers, we cook, store, buy and consume our food in.

I devote a whole chapter about pots, pans and packaging in my book Changing Habits Changing Lives and have been talking about this topic for 15 years.

When I first wrote on this topic we were aware of chemicals being leached from many food containers and cooking utensils and now more and more evidence is mounting against using containers that leach chemicals creating health problems. Choice released a report on the 1st September 2010 regarding BPA (BiphenolA) in canned foods (thats the plastic that lines the inside of the can). Due to the toxic load and hormone disruptors Choice are demanding the government, the food industry and the FSANZ take urgent action to remove BPA from canned foods for babies and toddlers due to health concerns. (FSANZ Media Releases) My belief is that we should also ban it from any containers with food.


By Karen Keynes of GreenUrLife

I want you to take a good look around your kitchen. Any of these items look familiar?

Most kitchens have an array of plastic chopping boards, plastic storage containers, plastic serving utensils, plastic water jugs, kids melamine dinnerware, a plastic dish rack, disposable plastic cups and plates, plastic sauce bottles, plastic spice containers, plastic, plastic, plastic…

Now think back to when you were young and visiting your grandparent’s house – what was in their kitchen…glass, tin, ceramic?

The last 60 years has seen the plastic ware revolution change the way we prepare, serve and store food in our kitchens. What we need to ask is, is it for the better?

Recent research over the last decade focussing on plastic components and their impact on our health has resulted in increasing media coverage and therefore an increase in our awareness about components such as BPA and Phthalates. But what does it all mean?

Let’s take a look at why these plastic components have such a bad reputation, what types of products contain them and how we as consumers can identify them.


BPA is the abbreviation used for Bisphenol A. It is a key building block in the production of synthetic resins and polycarbonate plastics.


Phthalates are esters of phthalic acid and are mainly used as plasticisers that increase the flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity of hard plastics. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).


(a)  Effect On Health

Both Bisphenol A and Phthalates act as an endocrine disruptor, which means they can mimic the body’s own hormones potentially leading to negative health effects.

Concerns with Bisphenol A were first raised as a result of research conducted in the 1930s, however the adverse effects from its endocrine disrupting properties were only first reported in 1997 and have since been extensively investigated with more than 100 published studies raising health concerns about the chemical.

In a 2008 Bulgarian study, higher dust concentrations of the Phthalate, DEHP, were found in homes of children with asthma and allergies, compared with healthy children’s homes. The study identified a significant correlation between the concentration of Phthalates and wheezing in the last 12 months as reported by the parents.

Phthalates were previously contained in plastic film wrap, however due to reports of the induction of testes toxicity and antiandrogenic effects of DEHP from a 2003 study, it has now been replaced with a component called DEHA which contains no Phthalates. However DEHA also leaches into the food but the EU advises that DEHA has low acute toxicity, is not genotoxic and does not cause irritation.

The results from the various BPA and Phthalates research suggest that the greatest period of sensitivity to their effects is in early development (i.e. babies and infants) as this growth is largely driven by hormones. However this exposure can have lifelong implications and there is growing scientific evidence that health issues such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, allergies, asthma and diabetes can result even from low levels of exposure to these components.

(b) Point Of Contact

Bisphenol A has been shown to leach from the plastic lining of canned foods as well as from polycarbonate plastics, even more so where they are cleaned with harsh detergents or used to contain acidic or high-temperature liquids.

Phthalate plasticisers are not chemically bound to PVC, and can therefore easily leach and evaporate into food or the atmosphere from packaging.

(c) What Is Being Done

Regulatory bodies have determined safety levels for humans, but those safety levels are continually being reviewed as the results of new scientific studies become available.

In June 2010, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Mark Butler announced the voluntary phase out by major retailers of baby bottles containing Bisphenol A (BPA). Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have evaluated the safety of BPA and plasticisers in baby bottles and concluded that levels of intake of BPA or plasticisers are very low and do not pose a risk to babies health. However, a number of countries have responded to consumer concern and the USFDA’s concern about BPA by introducing voluntary withdrawals of BPA baby bottles from the market. Such a decision has been taken in the United States, Canada, a number of European countries and now Australia.

In January 2010, the Australian Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson announced a ban on items containing more than one per cent of the Phthalate, DEHP, because of international research linking it to reproductive difficulties. The types of toys and equipment covered by the ban include dummies, bowls, plates, cups, cutlery, soft books, infant activity centres and rattles – if they contain more than one per cent DEHP.

These actions are great, but there are still many products out there containing BPA and Phthalates that are not banned or limited in the quantity they contain. So there is still a long way to go. Meanwhile our livers continue to process these totally foreign synthetic materials and there is not yet any proof that 100% of the BPA and Phthalates that enter our system are excreted.



BPA is found in items or containers that come into contact with foodstuffs such as:

•- Polycarbonate Plastic – drinking vessels, baby bottles and plastic tableware (usually a hard clear plastic)

– Synthetic Resins – coatings on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans, especially those with a white lining

Type 7 is the catch-all “other” class, and it includes polycarbonate (sometimes identified with the letters “PC” near the recycling symbol) and synthetic resins which include BPA.

Phthalates are found in:

•- Various containers and hard packaging

Type 3 is for PVC plastics and encompasses those PVC items that contain Phthalates. PVC can also contain BPA as antioxidant in plasticisers.

There are seven classes used to identify plastics used in packaging applications.

Types 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), 5 (polypropylene), and 6 (polystyrene) do not use bisphenol A during polymerisation or package forming or phthalates as plasticisers.


So that is BPA and Phthalates the choice of whether you use plastic containing them is up to you!


•Kolarik B, Bornehag C, Naydenov K, Sundell J, Stavova P, Nielsen O (December 2008). “The concentration of phthalates in settled dust in Bulgarian homes in relation to building characteristic and cleaning habits in the family”. Atmospheric Environment 42 (37): 8553–9. doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2008.08.028

•Dalgaard, M., Hass, U., Vinggaard, A.M., Jarfelt, K., Lam, H.R., Sorensen, I.K., Sommer, H.M. and Ladefoged,O. (2003) Di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA) induced developmental toxicity but not antiandrogenic effects in pre- and postnatally exposed Wistar rats. Reprod.Toxicol 17(2):163-170.


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