The most common sources of BPA and how to minimise exposure in your daily life. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a toxic chemical found in plastic.
A while back, I was on the train home coming back from the city (after meeting up with one of my friends), and to pass the time I thought I’d listen to one of Wellness Mama’s podcasts.
During the podcast they mentioned how (spoiler alert!) the most common source for BPA isn’t actually canned goods, but… wait for it… Thermal receipt paper! (Dun dun duuuun!).
This notoriously toxic chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is used in thermal paper coatings allowing for inkless printing for receipts.
BPA is an oestrogen-mimicking chemical (an oestrogenic). When we touch or eat things containing BPA, the chemical can enter our bloodstream and circulate round the body, triggering our oestrogen receptors.
When our hormone receptors are triggered over and over and over again, this tells our body, in a basic sense, that we’re “pregnant”. In men, this has resulted in reduced sperm count, the development of “man boobs”, and a shrinkage in male genitalia (penis). For more on this, see here.
According to I Quit Plastics:
Bisphenols (used in aluminium cans) makes fat cells bigger, disrupts the function of the protein that protects the heart, and it’s a synthetic estrogen so can have sex-specific effects on body mass. More exposure to bisphenol, more likelihood of obesity.
What is BPA Used for?
BPA has many different purposes, but it’s main use is as a chemical building block of polycarbonate plastics and of epoxy resins.
Polycarbonates are hard, clear plastics that have an almost glass-like finish. It WAS used in products like water bottles, baby bottles, kitchen appliance bowls, furniture, medical devices, etc. until it was discovered to have toxic effects on humans. It since has been removed from most products (to be replaced with BPS and BPF which are just as toxic… go figure).
Epoxy resins are used in a range of materials, like receipts and other paper, as well as paints, adhesives, and protective coatings — including clear coatings on the inside of food cans!
You may have noticed canned foods boasting “BPA-free,” but this isn’t perfect either, as they’re often replaced with other bisphenols (BPS, BPAF, BPF, etc.) that have similar negative effects on our health, yet aren’t “banned.”
People who come into contact with BPA coated receipts do have a higher level of BPA in their bodies than people with average contact. So, if you work around receipts wear reusable gloves. Be weird. It’s cool.
Also, ask for no receipt, or a digital receipt, or politely avoid touching it.
The Problem with BPA…
BPA, along with other plastic chemicals, has the potential to leach into foods and drinks via three pathways;
- Heat: For instance if you have a hot beverage in a plastic cup (e.g. takeaway coffee), the plastic from that cup is going to leach into the beverage.
- Grease/fat: If you have a plastic container that’s holding something greasy, plastic is lipophilic (meaning it’s attracted to the fat) and will leach into that fat. Even face creams, body butters and other products with a high fat content that are packaged in plastic will have this same effect happen to them.
- Duration: If something’s been sitting in plastic for ages, the toxins will be leaching into that.
Factors like the acidity of what’s stored in the plastic/can or its temperature can affect the amount of bisphenol-A that’s leaches into the drink or food.
According to Wellness Mama;
A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) study found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 93% of people (6 and up) who were tested. Additionally, it has been found in breastmilk and newborn babies, suggesting that it might store in the body and could potentially cross the placenta.
As BPA is an endocrine disruptor, it may also play a part in hormone imbalance, early puberty, infertility, low sperm count, higher risk of reproductive cancers, and other hormone-related conditions.
Canada was one of the first countries to ban BPA from children’s products, with many other countries following suit. Countries like China, Denmark, Belgium, France and Austria have limited the use of BPA in food packaging.
The top three plastics you should never use, according to I Quit Plastics, are:
ALWAYS AVOID plastics numbers 3, 6, and 7
#3 – phthalates
#6 – styrene (a known carcinogen)
#7 – bisphenols (used in aluminium cans) makes fat cells bigger.
Avoiding plastics altogether (or as much as possible) is one of the best ways to go, but in the meantime, here are a few of the hidden sources of BPA that should be avoided to help reduce exposure to this toxic chemical.
The Hidden Sources of BPA
Here are some of the places you wouldn’t expect to find BPA hiding:
- Plastic bottles: Coca Cola (Coke) consistently ranks as the #1 plastic polluter year after year according to global plastic pollution data collection. Plastic water bottles are often lined with bisphenol-A. According to Onya:
An estimated 10 billion pounds of BPA was produced for plastic manufacturing in 2011, making it one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide.
- Receipts: Thermal receipt paper is lined with BPA, which can stick to your skin and is absorbed by the body. Things like movie tickets, airline tickets, and other receipts printed on thermal paper may all have traces of BPA on them.
Ask for no receipt, or a digital receipt, or politely avoid touching it.
- Canned foods/drinks: BPA is often used in the lining of canned goods like veggies, fruits, soups, etc. It’s present during the high-heat and sterilisation processes, so the levels of BPA can be even higher in canned foods.
Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit.
- Soft drink cans: BPA can be present in the lining the cans.
Avoid drinking soda (or make your own carbonated drinks using a SodaStream).
- Kitchen plastics: BPA can be found in many plastics like plastic food storage containers, plates, cups, and utensils.
Source plastic-free kitchen supplies.
- Both plastic AND paper cups: Plastic cups are lined with bisphenol-A, but paper cups can be, too.
Bring your own glass reusable mug! (Both your body and the planet will love you for it).
- Plastic wrap: This common kitchen appliance often contains BPA and other plastic chemicals.
Use wax wraps (or make your own!), glass storage containers, or baking paper.
- Dental sealants: Small amounts of BPA may leach from these.
Have a chat with your dentist about other options before having any dental work.
- Coffee pots: Many coffee pots can contain BPA. What’s more, because hot water is used inside it, there is a higher chance of it leaching into the drink.
Don’t drink coffee… I’m kidding! Simply use a glass kettle or French press.
BPA-Free Alternatives May be Worse
BPA-free may still not solve the problem.
While they may be taking BPA out, they unfortunately replace it with bisphenols that might be just as harmful.
Products labelled “BPA-free” often contain alternatives like bisphenol-S (BPS) or bisphenol-F (BPF), both of which have been found to have more of an effect on the endocrine system than BPA.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
How do you avoid BPA and plastics? Share below.
Lots of love,
Wells, Katie. (January 28, 2019). Hidden Sources of BPA (And Why You Should Care). Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/54748/hidden-sources-of-bpa/
O’Connor, Anahad. (December 8, 2014). BPA in Cans and Plastic Bottles Linked to Quick Rise in Blood Pressure. Well. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/bpa-in-cans-and-plastic-bottles-linked-to-quick-rise-in-blood-pressure/
Rubin, Beverly S. Bisphenol A: An endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects. Science Direct. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960076011001063
Curtis, Sandra. (December 23, 2016). Is BPA on Thermal Paper A Health Risk? Plastic Pollution Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2016/12/23/is-bpa-on-thermal-paper-a-health-hazard
Rathee, Manu. Malik, Poonam. Singh, Jyotirmay. Bisphenol A in dental sealants and its estrogen like effect. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3354837/
3 Plastics You Should NEVER USE. (October 14, 2019). I Quit Plastics. Retrieved from https://iquitplastics.com/blog/2019/10/14/3-plastics-you-should-never-use
Nelson, Kathryn. (January 25, 2021). Reminder: RECEIPTS ARE COATED IN TOXIC PLASTIC. Instagram. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/CKd-xV-DsZn/
Nelson, Kathryn. (July 23, 2021). Mermaid Interviewed by Julia Wheeler & Paul DeGelder on DirtDowUnder.com. YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/G0ap-_XyfcA
BPA-Free Water Bottles: 5 Things You Need to Know. Onya. Retrieved from https://www.onyalife.com/bpa-free-water-bottles/
Nelson, Kathryn. (November 25, 2020). Sign the petition in my bio. Instagram. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/CH_rk4Mjoac/