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Don’t Drink BPA: Plastic Safety for People and Earth

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to avoid drinking from plastic as much as possible.

One way to be both healthy in body AND good to the environment in the kitchen is to make sure the materials you’re using aren’t dangerous to either.

There’s a lot of buzz about plastics lately, mostly focusing on BPA, or Bisphenol A. My general theory is that if there’s a question about something’s safety, and it’s easy and frugal to make a change away from that item, I should do it. I’ve been working hard to move away from plastics and safely use the plastics I have left. Here are some of the background facts:

What Is BPA?

Bisphenol A is a chemical used to make some plastics. It may be an endocrine disruptor, which means it acts like hormones in a human’s system. “More than 100 studies have been published “rais[ing] health concerns” about the chemical (from Wikipedia).”  It’s possible that it’s carcinogenic, a term you’ll see around a lot. Read it as “cancer causing“. Big bummer. It’s possible that BPA may cause breast cancer. It’s possible that BPA may cause signs of early puberty. It’s possible that BPA may lower sperm count. Anyone notice any of that around our world?

There isn’t conclusive proof that BPA is toxic, and the government still thinks there are acceptable levels. However…anything that messes with our hormones is not something I want to expose my children to. I look around and see rampant infertility, cancer, sexual disfunction and disorder, and I wonder why. If I can avoid something as easy as a plastic water bottle, I’m going to. It’s just a small step:  over 90% of the general population carries residues of BPA in their bodies.

Investigating the Use of BPA in Food Storage Containers

Sarah at Tales of a Hummingbird emailed the Ziploc company with some surprising results. I was under the impression that all plastic storage bags were no. 4 plastic, generally deemed safe(er) without BPA. Here’s the scoop:

The following bags are recyclable under the plastic recycling number four:

  • Ziploc® Brand Freezer and Storage Bags
  • Ziploc® Brand Snack and Sandwich Bags
  • Ziploc® Brand evolve™ Bags
  • Ziploc® Brand Fresh Produce Bags

The following bags are recyclable under the plastic recycling number seven:

  • Ziploc® Brand Easy Zipper Bags
  • Ziploc® Brand Zip ‘n Steam™ Bags
  • Ziploc® Brand Vacuum Freezer Bags

Number seven often included BPA. What???

And here is the latest FDA update on BPA, from January 2010.

Here’s what Beth Terry of My Plastic-Free Life has to say:

When I started my blog, one of the rules I made for myself was not to buy any new plastic. But I also didn’t want to waste the plastic I already had. I continued to use plastic food containers, for example, because I figured as long as they were already in my kitchen, I might as well make use of them.

 

I don’t do that anymore.

What Do Microwaves Do to Plastics?

The way BPA (and other random chemicals in our containers) gets into our bodies is by leaching out of the plastic into our foods. Time and heat accelerate leaching, possibly up to 55 times as fast. FDA science policy analyst Catherine Bailey says “When you microwave, it’s a good idea not to have the plastic touch the food.” For more on microwave safety, click here.

What Plastics Are Safe for Food?

The good news is that not all plastics have BPA in them. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Evil:  #3, 6 and some 7 (#7 means “other” so there’s a wide range, but better safe than sorry)
  • Better…maybe: #2 HDPE, #4 LDPE, #5PP (This has been the standard “safe list” for a few years. Recent research is raising questions even here.)
  • Basic plastic water bottles are generally #1. They are for one-time use only. The safety is questionable.

Most plastic food storage containers (Ziploc, Gladware, etc.) and cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt tubs are #5PP, as are the plastic cups for kids at restaurants. Sippy cups and bottles are all over the place. Brita pitchers, which do not have a recycle number on the bottom, are deemed safe by Simple Steps.

How Long Does It Take Plastic to Biodegrade?

Here’s something to chew on:  both glass and plastic take a long time to biodegrade. One million years for glass and “forever” for plastic, a nominal difference. I don’t like to throw away either if possible. But which one breaks and/or is thrown out more often when used as food storage?

Baby steps

In the interest of baby steps, Kitchen Stewardship® style, we’re going to split up plastic-avoiding goals into three parts.

Part One: Drinking Containers

Since leaching is accelerated by time and heat, that’s where you want to focus your efforts, plus the cases where you’re exposed most often. I’m pretty sure all of us drink liquids daily, often many times a day. I’m also pretty sure some of us like to keep our water cold in the fridge or freezer, or leave it hanging around while we work. Drinking glasses are a simple place to make a change, possibly without spending any money.

First Memorize the List

The plastics deemed “safer” have a recycle number on the bottom of 2 HDPE, 4 LDPE or 5 PP. Here are few mnemonics (can you tell I’m a teacher?) to help you:

  • If you’re a word person, think Hoopy, Loopy, and Pee Pee for the letters.
  • If rhyming does it for you — or if you’re a cheerleader from a past life — try 2, 4, 5 = “two-forty-five, stayin’ alive.”
  • If you’re visual, picture your phone:  2-4-5 is a triangle of good health!

I don’t want to make it sound as though these plastics will make you healthy — they still haven’t been around for hundreds of years, so we really don’t know what they’ll do to us — but they’re the best of the bunch if you’ve gotta use plastics.

1. Just Drink With a Glass

Do you have cups made of glass in your house? Simply choose glass when you want a drink.

While you’re at it, save dishes, water, soap and the environment and use one glass all day long. Someone I know uses colored rubber bands on her family’s water glasses for the day so they can tell them apart.

DON T DRINK BPA

When I decided plastics were simply unsafe, I looked through the cupboard (because if they’re in there, someone will use them) and decided that some old, old plastic cups without a number on the bottom had to go. I recycled them. It hurt, because I seriously hate throwing ANYthing away, but we always leave glasses of water sitting around at our house. We haven’t run out of cups since then, so I guess we don’t miss them!

Why do I risk using glass dishes with my 3-year-old? And even my two-year-old?

  • It’s important for children – even young ones – to learn how to care for breakable items. The Montessori method, which I love, touts the use of real dishes and glass pitchers for their work and eating. I concur.
  • I buy them at garage sales or choose those I don’t mind breaking, just in case. Mistakes/breaks are great teaching moments.
  • I don’t have to worry about BPA.
  • I don’t have to dry the cups after my dishwasher fails to dry the inside of little plastic cups.

2. Plastic Bottle Change-Up

Do you have a plastic water bottle that you regularly drink out of? If you’re at home, see above. If you need it to travel, search your house to see if you have something made of stainless steel or glass that has a lid (like a travel mug for coffee, often lined with stainless steel). This is especially important if your favorite bottle is an old Nalgene or other number 7 plastic, which are particularly susceptible to leaching BPA.

If you have a birthday coming up, consider adding a stainless steel water bottle to your wish list. I found one at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $10, which was $8 with the 20% off coupon. There are really high quality ones at www.kleankanteen.com and www.greenfeet.com.

Note:  if you drop them or freeze them (on accident!) and they get wobbly bottoms, you can bang them (gently) back into shape with a hammer. Guess how I know that?

3. Bottled Water

If you regularly drink bottled water – like, more than just at graduation parties and the like – I’m here to ask you to reconsider.

I don’t even want to spend the time to look up how many plastic one-time-use water bottles are in the landfills, or how much money it takes to recycle them, or how much fossil fuel we waste transporting water all around the country for people to drink.

That those questions even exist is reason enough for me to figure out how to drink my own water from my tap. It’s more frugal and much more environmentally sound, and if I’m worried about plastics leaching chemicals into my body and my growing family’s body, then I’m going to skip the bottled water.

4. Other Situations

If you happen to have a habit of heating a liquid in the microwave in a plastic glass, now is the time to stop, please!

Check your pitchers that you use for juice or water to see if they’re a “safer” plastic. Don’t worry about milk jugs – not a lot of choice in that arena anyway. I have a Brita pitcher, which are said to be safe plastic, but it’s one area I’m wondering about. It’s still plastic, after all.

6. BPA-Free Sippy Cups

If you have kids who use sippy cups, see this great post at Keeper of the Home for a review of BPA-free sippy cups. I also love re-using the free cups that sit-down restaurants include with kids’ meals. They have lids, so when my son wants a straw, I choose them. All the ones I’ve found have been #5PP plastic, so I felt safe(er) using them for drinking. I stumbled across some research from Fall 2008 just recently that calls into question #5 leaching some other contaminant. So. I just won’t leave water sitting in them all day. That’s my baby step toward health and safety until I learn more about it.

Want more?Learn how to Minimize Plastic Kitchen Packaging.

For parts two and three of our plastic-avoiding goals:
Are you ready to ditch the plastic and switch to glass or stainless steel?

More About Plastic Safety:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. See my full disclosure statement here.

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

32 thoughts on “Don’t Drink BPA: Plastic Safety for People and Earth”

  1. We use mugs to drink out of instead of actual glass. (They are the glazed over kind.) We got rid of our plastics in drink and dishware awhile ago. With many children, dishes do get broken occasionally, but it also teaches as an above comment said. I use canning jars to store liquids, raw milk/yogurt etc. I love my cast iron, but also have stainless steel. I read on another website recently that the new enamel cast iron products have some coating on them. A lady with a child mentioned that she called the company (Le Crueset, I believe) and the newer versions have that coating. Her daughter was sensitive to the chemical. If she left the pot out in the rain, and it didn’t rust, then she knew it had the coating. My mother has enamel cast iron from around 30 years ago, and I’m guessing it doesn’t have that coating, but maybe I should do the test, out of curiousity! Thank you for all the wonderful comments and information! We are trying in many ways to be healthier!

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  4. I didn’t see it in the discussion, but what about Tupperware, old and new? Mine are old enough to not have the stamp on the bottom, but do the new ones either? What is their danger? I use my pitchers for tea constantly and have for years because I can seal out the fridge odors. Glass pitchers don’t have lids.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Linda,
      This is the Tupperware safety post I linked to at another BPA discussion on the blog: http://www.popsci.com/earthtalk/article/2008-08/how-safe-tupperware

      Hope that helps! Sorry I let your comment get buried for so long!
      🙂 Katie

  5. With your list of numbers added to all the numbers I normally hear or read are BPA plastics, now all the numbers have been listed and that means that NO plastic is without BPA. 1-8 have BPA.

  6. What I am looking for and have had no luck in finding, is an insulated stainless steel drinking mug that is modeled after the Aladdin mugs (32 or 33 oz) and with a lid that is easy to drink from. I love the Aladdin mugs, but don’t like that they are plastic! Any suggestions that won’t break the bank? Actually, any covered, insulated stainless steel 32 oz or liter, cup especially if it also fits in a car holder would be perfect.

    1. Joanne,
      I’m probably no help as we don’t drink coffee enough to have nice mugs like that! Sorry! 🙂 Katie

  7. Enjoyed this article. We use and like the stainless steel bottles- both for us and the kids. We also have small stainless steel cups that are perfect for the kiddos when they are learning to drink from a cup. They are quite resilient. I found them at an Amish grocery store. Safe, unbreakable, and cheap to boot!

  8. KAtie,
    Do u know what number plastic the plastic containers are at Ikea? I have a bunch but they don’t have a number on them.

    1. Alyssa,
      I don’t have anything form Ikea, but they’re a pretty good company. Bet they’d tell you if you called, or you can compare to something with a number and guess. ?? It’s a tricky world out there! Katie

  9. Hi,
    I just came accross ur site. As neither hubby or I have jobs I need to spend as frugally as possible (easier said than done!) I have a Nalgene water bottle that I got in 2005. It was med in 2004 or 2005. How do I tell if it is a newer one? It has a number 7 on it.

    1. Alyssa,
      I hate to say it, but I’d be nearly certain that has BPA. No. 7 is a catchall category, but since it’s a Nalgene, I bet it is not good. So sorry! Maybe you can win the stainless steel bottle I’m giving away this week (coming soon)… 🙂 Katie

  10. Melamine isnt a good choice–it cant be put into the microwave–not that i use a microwave–it is simply best to use glass and china to eat off and cast iron to cook with or enamel coating–I use no teflon because i have parrots in the home and they can literally die from using teflon–if my parrots can die, i dont want it in my lungs either! Great article and thanks for sharing!
    .-= [email protected] Moderate Life´s last blog .."Wish List" versus "Must Haves" of the Healthy Kitchen =-.

  11. I’m trotting along on my path to a ‘no plastic’ home and it feels so good! The peace of mind alone is well worth the effort!
    Have you mentioned anything about Tupperware or melamine? I’d like more info on these in particular as I do have a few storage containers that are Tupperware (vintage) that I really like and can’t replace yet and I use melamine plates for everyday use, but we are almost completely microwave free so the heat thing isn’t an issue.
    Also, a friend recently told me about a doctor’s appt she had where they found high levels of nickel in her system possibly from using metals. Is this common? Have you heard about this at all? Can you point me in a direction to start looking? Is cast iron really worth the pain?

    Thanks a ton!

    ~traci 😀
    .-= Traci´s last blog ..Multitude Monday =-.

    1. Traci,
      Good work!
      I did check into Tupperware, and the info I found claims that it is BPA-free. (Phew.)

      Melamine wasn’t on my radar, though.

      I just read something about stainless steel pots causing a potential leaching of nickel into our food, mainly when acidic foods are used (tomatoes are one example).

      Here’s a post from The Nourishing Gourmet which includes cast iron and stainless steel: http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2009/12/my-new-chantal-enamel-on-steel-saucepan-and-why-some-cookware-is-bad-news.html

      That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Just remember that we can only do our best with what we have – but if you see a cast iron pan second hand, grab it!
      🙂 Katie

  12. I am actually addicted to my BPA free water bottles, but I don’t use the metal ones you recommend bc I don’t like how it takes forever to untwist…. plus they’re heavy!

    I wanted to let you know, though, that I just read an article about this new 100% recycled and recyclable plastic so I don’t feel guilty buying drinks packaged in it. It’s called a reNEWabottle by naked juice… you should check it out!

  13. I wanted to add my 2 cents about stainless steel and cast iron. I love my cast iron skillet and use it all the time for just about everything. If you season it properly, things don’t stick much. I never wash my cast iron with soap,,, just rinse with really hot water and a brush. Then heat on high for a minute to dry it. When you first start using cast iron you will have to season it if not already done and continue seasoning it until it’s “stick free”. Once in awhile, if I cook a tomato based meal such as homeade beefaroni, I will have to reseason it a bit. As far as stainless steel, I use Revereware (no teflon, etc coating). As long as I use a little “pam” or olive oil, nothing sticks. I think the secret is to use a lower heat. I even cook scramled eggs in it and they don’t stick much at all. But I must warn you that cooking with cast iron is sort of like learning to cook over again. It’s very different from a regular ss pan or coated pan. Once the iron heats up it keeps its heat so you have to make sure to keep the heat low. It took me a few pans of burnt chicken to get the heat figured out. But once you do, you reap the benefits of getting iron in your food. Hope this helps.

    1. Cindy,
      Welcome to KS! I do have some cast iron pans, and you’re totally right about learning to cook all over again. I spent over 5 minutes the other day working to get eggs out of there. Maybe 10 minutes. I used butter, heated the pan first, but I think I probably let the heat get too high (?) during the cooking. They are great and a pain all at once! Thank you for the tutorial!
      Katie

      1. Thanks Katie! I LOVE your site! I’m 52 and it just goes to show you that you can teach an old dog new tricks! LOL To season your cast iron anything, coat it inside and out with a lite coating of Crisco. Bake on 300o for 30 min then cool in the oven. Wipe with a paper towel and you are set to go. I used a little pam and still do depending on what I’m cooking.
        hug,
        Cindy

        1. Cindy,
          I’d probably use a different fat – have you seen this post? http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2009/06/01/search-out-trans-fats/
          Thanks! Katie

        2. Hi Cindy,
          Can u just use cooking spray? That is what my instructions on my cast iron skillet say to use.

  14. Sorry, it’s me again! 🙂
    I just thought of another question…what about utensils, like ladles, slotted spoons, spatulas, etc. And measuring cups & spoons. And appliances like food processors that have plastic containers with them? Ha! Sorry – it’s like I’m hurling 10,000 questions at you, but as I was cleaning out the cabinets all of these things kept popping into my mind! I’m just not sure if all of those things should also be replaced as well.
    Thank you so much!

    klutzymama’s last blog post..Father’s Day 2009

    1. Good call – I never thought about ladles and such. I do love using the new silicone spatulas and such, and I haven’t done my own research, but some other bloggers have said they seem to be “safe”. Many plastics for the kitchen, like food processors, are number 5 plastic, which doesn’t leach BPA. So you do what you can w/o freaking out! 😉 There are good stainless steel utensils, but you’re right, I don’t often see glass food proc. containers. Something to look into…thanks for the great “thinking it through” comment!

  15. Hi! I’m new to your site (and I love it!) so maybe you’ve already covered this topic before, but do you have a recommendation for a replacement for non-stick pans? I’ve recently started using cast iron for a lot of my cooking, but there is a lot of work involved with maintaining them and you can’t just throw them in the dishwasher…I was thinking about stainless steel, but I’ve never cooked with them before and don’t know the first thing about how you keep foods from sticking in them…I would appreciate any suggestions you might have!
    Thanks!

    klutzymama’s last blog post..Father’s Day 2009

    1. I haven’t covered pans yet…they’re coming, but here are my quick tips:
      I totally agree about the cast iron – they’re great, but tough on upkeep.
      Stainless steel are pretty easy to care for because you can scrub the heck out of them with steel wool without hurting the surface. I don’t have any fry pans in stainless steel, though, so I’ve never wrangled scrambled eggs out of them.
      Putting water into a pot/pan and putting it right back on to boil will loosen a lot of the stuck-on stuff.
      More later — probably in the fall, I’ll introduce “Teflon-Free Tuesdays”, a way to encourage people to be cognizant about Teflon and use baby steps to experimenting with what they already have to avoid the non-stick.
      Thanks for joining us – hope to see more of you!!

    2. I disagree heartily with the “lot of work/tough on upkeep” posts about cast iron. You need to give it a shot because they are SO easy and good for you to use. I have been using cast iron skillets for decades now, and would never go back. Never.
      I use steel pots for liquid cooking but cast iron for everything else. I do have ONE non-stick pan that I bought under duress but use it rarely (think crepes!).
      Here’s my best advice for cast iron: buy old antique pans or beg them off of older relatives. My collection came from two grandmothers (just a couple from each) and thrift stores/ garage sales. Choose pans with silky smooth interiors but remember that does not rule out old crusty pans: you can put them in your oven on the self-clean cycle and all that old yuck wipes right out. You will need to re-season those but please avoid vegetable oils and hydrogenated shortening! Palm oil, lard, coconut oil or chicken fat would be my top recommendations.
      I think the most trouble you can have with cast iron comes from our fat-phobic brainwashing. Heat the pan well and use plenty of whatever good fat you are choosing (butter, lard, coconut, palm or olive oil… even chicken fat!)
      I cook scrambled eggs several times a week and the most I do is: use a nylon or bamboo pan scraper around the edges (and this because I hate to waste anything the chickens will eat!), a little water and a swish with the dish brush, rinse and turn upside-down on top of the stovetop or on a rack in the oven. Simple. No drying with towel or stove heat, no rust, never have to re-season my pans. Really. On the rare occasion when I burn something or somehow manage to get something really stuck on: use the scraper (I love that little tool) and fill pan with hot water to the top of stuck-on mess. Let sit for a few minutes, 15 tops. Use a brush or nylon scrubber and it really is a breeze to scrub the remaining residue out.
      Love, love, love my cast iron! I even bought an expensive enamel coated cast iron big pot for stews, casseroles etc… that can be used either stove top or in the oven. Birthday present to self this last summer after watching “Julie and Julia”. It eliminates the nickel-leaching concerns with liquids in stainless steel pots. Did I mention that it is also GORGEOUS and I feel tres gourmet when using it? Makes cooking an altogether pleasure-inducing experience.
      Utensils: wood, bamboo and metal mostly. One silicon pancake turner (for that one non-stick skillet) and a few silicon spatulas (from tiny to huge) for cleaning out bowls and jars.
      You CAN cook healthy, tasty food AND have a pleasurable time doing it!

      1. Bebe,
        Thanks for the hearty recommendation! I have a love/hate relationship with my cast irons, possibly because I have never taken the time to properly season them. I’m not afraid of fat, but I feel like I’m feeding it to my pans sometimes and wasting the expensive stuff b/c I have to add so much! I’ll keep trying, though. 🙂 Katie

      2. Bebe,
        So you never have to re-season your cast iron? Even after having to use water to remove stuck-on food? If this is the case, then it makes me think that I’m doing something wrong when seasoning mine because without fail, every time I have to involve water, I have to re-season. Maybe you could share how you season your pans??? Thanks!!
        .-= klutzymama´s last blog ..Feelin’ Like A “Butt” =-.

        1. I really never re-season, as in coat-it-with-fat-and-stick-it-in-the-oven-and-let-it-cook-in kind of seasoning. If something is stuck on I just put some hot water in the pan (we have a hot water dispenser on our sink for tea and coffee and such so that is usually what I choose-quite hot!), let it sit for a few minutes, then dump out water, use a nylon scraper to pry any remaining sticks off(my favorite is the one that Pampered Chef sells-they are cheap and really make the job so much easier) and then rinse with fresh water and air-dry on stove or in oven… upside down.
          The next time I need the pan I just have to use a little more butter or coconut oil (my most used fats) and I use the pan like normal. When you cook you are in actuality seasoning the pan each time, if you are generous with the fat.
          Example: right now I am on a special protocol and my diet is completely exclusive of fat (just temporary, I assure you!). So when I want to cook I heat my favorite cast iron pan till it starts to smoke around the edges, then add the fish or chicken (what I am eating right now, no skin or visible fat allowed) then after it has browned on the bottom, I add some hot water, just enough to loosen the meat and deglaze the pan. So in essence I am only braising right now and when I am done there is no shininess left in the pan but that’s O.K.!
          Say I want to scramble some eggs for my kids for breakfast in that same pan: I would normally use about a tablespoon of butter for about 6-8 eggs. This time I am going to have to use a couple Tbs. but I don’t have to take any other “re-seasoning” steps. Then the next time I use the pan it is back to normal, or almost. I may need to use a little extra fat the next time but really only takes one or two times to return to it’s “seasoned” state. Never give up!! (:

          1. Bebe,
            Mine is doing all right lately, but I still hate the thought of feeding my pan all my expensive fats! 😉 I want to have some cheap canola oil just for the pan, but I don’t think I will… Katie

  16. We’ve been very cognizant about avoiding BPA since it was first in the news several months ago. Cleared out the old Nalgene’s went through our cupboards, had to toss all of our old baby bottles (they were Avent) . . . made sure all of Lloyd’s sippy cups were BPA free (I love the NEW Nalgene BPA-free sippy cups though!) and I started using a stainless steel water bottle while my husband prefers the new Nalgene’s.

    We are in the process, though, of switching over from sippy cups to real cups for my little guy and we’ve only done glass . . . just because I prefer glass and I’m not buying plastic anymore, and also to teach him responsibility (a la Montessori! 🙂 We’re on the same page on a lot of things! 🙂

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Best,
    Sarah

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