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Dangers of Plastic Food Containers, Water Bottles, and Bisphenol A (BPA)

Do you ever think about all the plastic in your kitchen?

You probably have an entire drawer full of stuff, including reusable plastic containers that you use to store and reheat leftovers. After all, these things are handy. They’re lightweight, they store easily, and they’re cheap.

What’s not to love?

The Dangers of Plastic

What many people don’t think about is that many of their plastic dishes and storage containers are leaching chemicals into their food, especially if they’re using #3 or #7 plastics, or any hard plastic that’s “shatterproof.” These plastics contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that, once ingested, mimics estrogen in our bodies.

According to Scientific American, studies have shown that these chemicals can promote human breast cancer cell growth and lower sperm counts. Pregnant women, infants and children are especially at risk.

What’s more is that all of us have BPA in our systems. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found traces of BPA in 93% of urine samples they took for a 2004 study.

Although some experts say we’re not being exposed to enough BPA to cause a fuss, other scientists disagree. Here’s a snippet from the Scientific American expose, Plastic (Not) Fantastic:

A recent report in the journal Reproductive Toxicology found that humans must be exposed to levels of BPA at least 10 times what the EPA has deemed safe because of the amount of the chemical detected in tissue and blood samples. “If, as some evidence indicates, humans metabolize BPA more rapidly than rodents,” wrote study author Laura Vandenberg, a developmental biologist at Tufts University in Boston, “then human daily exposure would have to be even higher to be sufficient to produce the levels observed in human serum.”

In short, because we have so much BPA stored in our tissue, we’re obviously ingesting more than what the EPA has deemed “safe.” The stuff is everywhere…even in the printed thermal store receipts we get every time we buy something.

The thing is, it’s not just BPA we need to worry about. Not using #3 and #7 plastics isn’t going to solve the problem by itself. All plastics leach chemicals into our food, and the FDA has admitted this.

Plastic does not last forever. The more it’s heated and cooled, and heated and cooled, the more the chemicals in that container begin to break down. And when they start to break down, they break down into the food inside. As a result, detrimental and expensive health issues can arise.

Thus, it’s important try to make reasonable efforts to replace plastic in our kitchens.

How to Create a Safer Kitchen

It’s almost impossible to have a 100% plastic-free kitchen. I tried last year, and failed miserably. After all, plastic is everywhere. It wraps our bread, it stores our peanut butter, and it holds our dried beans, gelato, and cinnamon. Just walk through the grocery store and try to fill up your cart with the things you need without buying anything plastic. It’s not easy.

However, there are steps you can take to create a safer, plastic-free kitchen.

1. If You Do Use Plastic, Never Heat It

Use Plastic Never Heat When plastic is heated, says Scientific American, it leaches chemicals 55 times faster than normal. So, never ever heat food in a plastic container in the microwave, or pour hot food (especially liquid) into a plastic container. Even if it says “microwave safe” on it, it’s still going to leach chemicals. Microwave Safe simply means the container won’t warp in the heat.

If you do use plastic, stick to numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5. Those are safest.

This tip is especially true for baby bottles or containers where you place your homemade and healthy baby food recipes. Whenever you can, use glass baby bottles, or plastic bottles that specifically say “BPA-Free.” Don’t buy used plastic baby bottles at garage sales.

2. Use Glass or Stainless Steel Containers

Use Glass Stainless Steel Containers

The best step you can take to cut down on your use of plastic is to recycle all the plastic storage containers you have, and use glass or stainless steel instead. Remember those colorful glass Pyrex containers from the ’70s? You can pick them up for a song at garage sales and flea markets. Glass is safe, and it rocks.

I recycled all my plastic containers two years ago, and all my leftovers are stored in glass or stainless steel. Plus, my funky old Pyrex has way more character than generic Gladware.

3. Buy Fresh or Frozen Vegetables

Buy Fresh Frozen Vegetable BPA is in the lining of almost all canned food because it helps prevent corrosion and food contamination. Whenever you can, buy fresh or frozen food rather than canned food. Buy dried beans instead of canned. Buy fresh fruit over canned fruit. Or better yet, grow your own produce in your home garden. You get the idea.

4. Use a Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Use Stainless Steel Water BottleI use a stainless steel water bottle that unscrews in the middle so you can, get this, actually clean it. Yeah, it’s amazing, and it’s 100% BPA free.

If you have an older Sigg stainless steel water bottle, then keep in mind that the gold lining inside likely has BPA in it. There was a big fuss about this last year. Newer Siggs have a BPA-free lining.

5. Ditch the Deli Wrap

Ditch Deli Wrap Do you know what number plastic your deli is using to wrap your cheese in? Me neither.

When you’re buying cut cheese and meat from your deli counter, ask them to wrap it in wax paper instead of plastic. If they won’t do it, then rewrap it yourself when you get home.

6. Learn from the Best

Learn From Best Beth Terry, blogger over at My Plastic Free Life, is arguably the expert when it comes to living without plastic. Reading her blog is probably the best way to learn how to eliminate plastic from your life. For instance, in 2010, she only used 2.18 pounds of plastic. Yes, she measures every scrap of plastic she uses.

Thats 2% of what you and I use yearly. Her efforts, and her story, are incredibly inspiring. You might also want to check out her awesome list, How to Store Produce Without Plastic.

Final Word

There’s no doubt I could be doing more to reduce my use of plastic. Looking around my kitchen, I see plastic everywhere. It’s storing my bag of chips, it’s keeping my boxed wine fresh, and it’s storing my coffee, popcorn seeds, and ketchup. You may even have plastic in your kitchen gadgets or utensils.

But I’ve at least been able to cut down on my use of plastic where it matters most. I also try to buy food in glass containers whenever I can.

What about you? Do you try to limit your use of plastic in the kitchen? Do you have any helpful tips for keeping it out?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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