While shopping for plastic products, you may have come across a few items that are described as being ‘BPA-free’. If you're wondering what this means, or if you should be worried about BPA, you've come to the right place.
In this guide, we will look at what BPA actually is, why so many people are concerned about it, and what plastic producers are doing to increase public confidence in their products. Read on to find out more.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastics. It is used primarily because it lends the material strength and toughness, as well as making it near shatter-proof. One of the main types of plastic it is used in is polycarbonate, which is robust, possesses great optical clarity, is very lightweight, and has high heat and electric resistance. Because of these qualities, polycarbonate is used in many everyday plastic products, from food and drinks containers to CDs and DVDs.
BPA was first discovered in 1891 by Russian chemist Aleksandr Dianin, and has grown to be one of the most widely produced chemicals in the world. According to a University of Missouri review in 2012, 2011 saw the production of over 4.5 million tonnes of BPA plastic for polycarbonate globally, which just goes to show how widely the chemical is used in plastic products across a range of industries.
Due to its presence in so many products which we come into regular contact with, the chemical is passed into our bodies, most often from food and drink we consume that are stored in containers made with BPA. In fact, the Centre for Disease Control found that 93% of people it tested in a survey had the substance present in their system, indicating how commonplace it is.
BPA has undergone many tests in its 120 years of existence, with a variety of conclusions drawn about its effect on the health of humans. The main concerns around the chemical have been based on the fact that it can act as a synthetic oestrogen, the female reproductive hormone. There are theories that suggest BPA can trick the body and cause an imbalance in our systems. This has caused some studies to link the substance with a number of health risks, particularly for pregnant women and infants.
At the time of writing, the consensus seems to be that, at the current levels of BPA found in humans, no harmful effect is evident. This is a stance adopted by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) in their latest review of the subject. They also indicate that current levels of the chemical found in our systems is considerably below the tolerable daily intake that they have set as part of their safety standards.
Recent concerns were raised in early 2008, when it was found that every infant formula manufacturer used BPA in the containers of their products, which resulted in the US launching a Congressional investigation into this use of the chemical. As a result of the investigation, many manufacturers admitted that they did not know what level of BPA was in their formula, and others were found to have carried out inadequate tests.
BPA-free products have been manufactured in a way that completely removes BPA from the production process, replacing the chemical with alternatives not associated with any of the health risks. Purchasing these, instead of those that are made with BPA, is a great way of minimising exposure to the chemical for those who are concerned about its effects. Many manufacturers now offer many products in BPA-free plastic, including water bottles, baby cups, and plastic food containers.
There are a few ways that you can be sure the item you are thinking of buying is free from BPA. The first place you should check is the manufacturer description, which will often state whether the product is BPA-free. You can also check for a BPA-free sticker or label on the product or packaging.
The most reliable way to check whether an item is BPA-free is to consult the plastic identification code number — usually stamped on the bottom of the container. There are seven categories, where numbers 1 to 6 are free of BPA. This means that only those printed with the number 7 will contain the chemical. The numbers are also accompanied by a sequence of letters which give more detail about the plastic. The two most common and safest BPA-free plastics are those that fall under categories 2 and 5.
The categories are set out to the right.
Name of plastic or resin
Examples of use
PETE / PET
Soft drinks bottles
Some reusable plastic food storage containers
V / PVC
Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride
Debit and credit cards
Plastic shopping bags
Some reusable plastic food storage containers
Foam drinking cups
Other substances (may include BPA)
Any item not made of the above materials
However, if you are concerned about the potential effects of the chemical, BPA-free products allow you to use everyday items with limited exposure. There are plenty of great alternatives available, which means you can continue benefiting from the plastic products that make your life easier.
Due to the wide use of BPA in so many everyday products, it is virtually impossible to eliminate exposure to the chemical entirely. Nevertheless, there are a few steps you can take to minimise the amount you come into contact with on a day-to-day basis. Investing in BPA-free products is a great start, but let’s take a look at some of the others:
• Avoid canned food: The linings in the cans used to package canned goods are often manufactured with BPA, which can be passed onto the food and into your system when eaten. Instead, eat non-canned varieties or fresh where possible.
• Avoid microwaveable meals: The plastic used in the packaging of microwave meals can often contain BPA, which is passed on to the food.
• Avoid microwaving polycarbonate food containers: When you microwave a polycarbonate container, the material can break down and release BPA chemicals into its contents. Look out for the number 7 plastic identification code on the bottom and avoid microwaving any that are imprinted with it.
• Buy wooden gifts for children: Instead of plastic toys that could potentially contain BPA, consider more traditional wooden toys as gifts. If you do buy plastic toys, look for non-toxic or BPA-free labelling in the description or on packaging.
• Use traditional tableware: Plastic cutlery, plates, and bowls could potentially contain BPA chemicals. As an alternative, opt for traditional metal cutlery and ceramic tableware.
Here at Plastic Box Shop, we specialise in providing quality plastic products that are suitable for yourself and your family. We have a great deal of BPA-free products available as part of our home, office, school, craft and industrial storage ranges. This includes a large selection of BPA-free food boxes.
We want you to be sure that the product that you are buying comes without any BPA chemicals, and that's why we've clearly marked every item in our ranges that are. Look out for the green BPA-free badge that accompanies many of our products and you can buy in confidence.