A new study about BPA hit the presses recently, indicating links between it and the obesity and diabetes epidemic. It’s very worthy of a read, but if you’re pressed for time, I’ll cut to the chase: researchers in Spain believe they have shown that BPA, by mimicking estrogen, compels the body to release almost double the insulin needed to break down food. Previous research by others indicates that increased insulin production may lead to weight gain and the onset of type II diabetes.
I’m glad to see such a finding making its way into the popular press, I’m a bit disappointed to report that the rest of the article is more editorial than scientific by mentioning implications and suggesting some thinly supported conclusions. It’s conjecture, not science.
I struggle, furthermore, with some of the comments, mainly those that do more to reveal ignorance than shed light on the topic. Should we just just eliminate plastic from our lives because of this report? Well, notwithstanding that the bulk of our BPA exposure comes not from plastic, but through canned foods and cash register receipts, I’m afraid eliminating plastic would be an overreaction to this research. Yes, this is further evidence that BPA has some very serious issues that warrant a cold hard look at whether any benefit that BPA might offer is outweighed by its cost.
To wit: recall that canned foods are a major culprit for BPA in our diets. Would you rather have home-grown tomatoes that are canned in glass jars (but the only lids available to seal the jars have BPA), or organic tomatoes packaged in tetrapaks that are BPA-free BUT aren’t recyclable?
In all honesty, I do not have an answer for that – not for myself, not for you. maybe the only answer is “don’t eat tomatoes out of season.” Sigh.
Not all plastics have, or are produced using, BPA. Polycarbonate is the resin of concern, and even then many polycarbonate items have removed BPA from its production. Polyethyene (#2 and #4) and polypropylene (#5, the plastic used for the food containers in Lunchsense) do not contain BPA. What’s more, the alternatives to plastics have their own issues that should not be ignored.
Returning to BPA and this most recent finding, you may ask, “Just how much research do we need to convince everybody that this is nasty stuff and it shouldn’t be used?” Great question, and one that scientists grapple with all the time. Here’s a recent interview with a researcher who has strong opinions (supported with research) about the dangers of BPA; others draw different conclusions from similar research.
It begs the bigger question still: ”Can the scientific method, in light of the extraordinarily complex network of causes and effects we have created in our modern life, even adequately examine these relationships and draw meaningful conclusions?”
I’m just chock full of questions. No answers here today, I’m sorry to say. Whether we’ve chosen to do so or not, we all have to live with uncertainty brought about by our modern living.
So NOW what do we do?
Avoid BPA whenever possible: Personally, I feel that there’s enough evidence to steer clear of it whenever possible. I strongly encourage you to read this excellent summary of BPA sources (part one and part two).
Be informed: Just like our food intake should be varied, so also should be our information intake. Please don’t allow one report dictate your every move, but do give several reports undertaken by independent facilities that reach similar conclusions a measure of credibility. Furthermore, give yourself permission to think long and hard about these topics. If there were simple answers we might have found them already.
Help inform others: Share the links. Discuss, civilly.
p.s. I chose to title the post as I have because it does indeed reflect my stance on this chemical. However, I also have another opinion which I feel passionately about, but it makes a really lousy post title: “Living with Ambiguity.” It’s what we do, so we should learn to abide with it. Embrace it, even.
We’re about to embark on a gripping adventure. A confounding mystery has thrust itself into the offices of Lunchsense World Headquarters, and we, driven by an unyielding determination to shed light on any dim corner of obscurity, feel obligated to investigate. It’s a bewildering complexity that involves multinational corporations, government agencies, public health groups, environmentalists and possibly even mad scientists. The wellness of the planet and the sustenance of our species could hang in the balance.
The story begins with the kind of woman you cross the floor and light a cigarette for (if people still smoked). “Hey, I kinda like your lunchboxes,” she says off-handedly before shooting me one of those straight-to-the-gut stares that suggests more than it delivers. “But,”—there’s always a hangnail, a stickler, some pain to snap me out of it—“are these plastic food containers safe?”
Ah, there’s the rub; the stopping point for many potential lady-friends and forward-thinking fellas alike. It seems plastic has recently transitioned from its gilded, “better living” period to a much darker phase of skepticism and mistrust. Who crashed the Tupperware party? Do we have good reason to be afraid? Is plastic another asbestos—a toxic substance that surrounds us, masquerading as modern convenience? Or has public anxiety been heightened egregiously by the rampant spread of misinformation via nefarious, unqualified sources? Who can be trusted?
Since selling plastic food containers is a part of our business, and since we’re human and live here too, Lunchsense has decided to put our considerable resources (this blog space) toward determining exactly where the truth lies. Combining Nancy’s scientific/research background with my own journalist’s instincts (shaded by a gumshoed-sleuth persona), we’re certain to crack the case. We’ll leave no stone unturned in our quest to discover what is known and unknown about this seductive, synthetic substance.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts related to the safety of plastic food containers, and we’ll be looking at the most viable alternative (for our purposes), stainless steel. We’ll outline and weigh their environmental impact, both in the manufacturing process and in the post-consumer period. We’ll also examine any health risks involved with using plastic (or stainless) food containers. Finally, we’ll discuss what qualities consumers use to determine “good” from “bad,” how those impressions are influenced, and where (we think) our food containers rate on that scale.
It’s sure to be a heart-pounding thrill, so stay tuned for our next installment, a short, historical primer entitled: Plastic Fantastic? We’ll explain what plastic is and how it’s produced. We’ll describe the different types of plastics and discuss the chemicals used in the manufacture of these types, including their toxicity and any associated health risks.
The truth is out there, so don’t you dare miss a single upcoming episode of our revealing series: The Plastic Files!
Photo uploaded to stock.xchng by hortongrou.
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/because three/is a magic number.”
Jack Johnson’s “Schoolhouse Rock” mash-up underlines an important point about the New Age “R’s”—there are three! While tremendous strides are being made in the areas of recycling AND reusing, not enough people are making a concentrated effort to reduce the amount of waste they create.
According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the recovery rate for solid municipal waste (SMW = trash) through recycling (and composting) was up to 32% in 2005, a significant increase over the less than 10% recycled in 1980. However, the creation of SMW has risen 60% since 1980.
The EPA estimates that each American still makes about 4.5 pounds of waste each day (most in the world), and that’s just not getting the job done. No matter how much we recycle (or reuse), if we don’t reduce the amount of trash we’re producing, we’re going to rubbish our green Earth.
It’s true that we live in an age of increased environmental awareness, and more and more people are “going Green,” but these changes continue to occur primarily within our “comfort zone.” It’s easier than ever before to recycle, and buzz-words like “vintage,” “antique” and “eBay” have given rise to an entire thrifting culture, but it takes a real effort and some humility to learn to make do with less.
Consider these facts:
In spite of our idiosyncrasies, we generally move in large groups over the smoothest path, and collectively share the suffering or the success of the passage. I’m one to think that conditioning plays a larger role than nature in determining how we act, and we’re not born with some fundamental need to wreak havoc on Earth’s ecosystems. On the contrary, our “survival instinct” should preclude irreparably trashing the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life. It’s obsolete consumerism that has conditioned us into irresponsible behavior patterns. We continue to celebrate excess in the United States like it was 1955, and we still aspire to have more.
It has been standard corporate policy in our country to sell more stuff, therefore making more stuff and consequently convincing us to buy even more stuff. We simply need to change our thinking. We have to shift from “wanting more” to “needing less.” We must favor products and industries designed to reduce waste. And, we should demand responsibility from the companies we support.
Any change in our national psychology has to start with the adults, but must really take hold with our kids. Education is always money in the bank, so we should rightfully start with the 3 R’s and reiterate the order of preference—“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!”
Most kids already have the hang of the recycling bit, and my own boys frequently trade toys with neighbors and even recently conducted a used toy sale (which netted an amazing $125). They also make good use of second-hand clothes. BUT, they still want the latest and greatest (evil commercials) a lot of the time, and as loving parents we frequently try to give it to them, caving in to “everyone else has one” pleas.
It’s important to remember “Reduce” comes first for a reason. Admittedly, it takes a decided change in attitude to shrink our super-sized appetites, and it’s not easy to get by with less, but it is possible.
Lunchsense is committed to reducing food and packaging waste by providing an Earth-friendly, reusable lunch kit that puts the “R’s” in their proper place. Recycling can’t do the job alone. Reduce and reuse first, “because three is a magic number.”
I came across this article at the grow and make blog, and just had to bring it to your attention.
It echoes a sentiment of mine that’s been growing and developing with this lunchbox biz, which goes like this: Plastics are a useful, valuable resource created from another useful, valuable, infinitely malleable resource – oil. We’ve all heard that plastics are going to be around for hundreds or thousands of years, which is why I’m appalled that we are churning out items of plastic that are meant to be used once and disposed – plastic packaging, for example. According to the author Susan Freinkel, half our plastics production is for single-use “disposable” items.
Please read the article, and if you can find the time, read the book, which comes out April 18.
Plastics – a Toxic Love Story – I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake.
The following information hit the presses last autumn (here is the report), and I’m only now finding it and passing it on to you, my fine readers. The gist of the story (which warrants its own read, as it’s full of information and additional links) is that credit card receipts using thermal imaging processes – the slick, shiny stuff that creates prints from a chemical reaction when heat is applied to the paper, as opposed to traditional ink-printed papers – are coated with bisphenol-A, the endocrine disrupting chemical.
I regret to say that the jury is still out about a definitive link between BPA and human health – google “BPA health effects” and march down the links, and you’ll get just a sampling of the spectrum – but I’m comfortable saying it is implicated in a host of troubles. It’s the same BPA that has plenty of people concerned about use of any plastics; the same BPA that compelled Canada to ban polycarbonate baby bottles and Japan to ban it outright; and the same BPA that is NOT found in any Lunchsense products.
One unsettling (and instructive) point in this most recent report, however, is the quantity of BPA we’re talking about. The amount which may leach from a polycarbonate bottle or a can liner is measured in nanograms, while that which shows up on a single receipt is 60 to 100 milligrams.
That’s a thousand-fold difference.
Now for a shorthand science lecture: We all believe in a linear relationship when we think about toxic materials and health effects. In other words, a small dose of some material has a small effect, and a larger dose of the same material has a larger effect. Here’s the rub: This dose-response relationship may not hold true for hormone-mimicking chemicals – the greatest effect may occur with a small dose, and our bodies may not respond at all to a large dose of the same material.
So where I can say “that’s a thousand-fold difference” for dramatic effect, I admit it may be meaningless.
The bottom line: we don’t know what’s going on.
If you find that this post is all over the map, then you’re perceptively picking up on my sentiments about the topic. I DON’T know what’s going on with BPA, but in the meantime I’ll be sure to keep it out of the Lunchsense lunchboxes, food containers, ice packs, and drink bottles.