Getting to the bottom of it: Polycarbonate Plastic

Argggggh!! I was feeling all proud of myself for finally going out and buying Nalgene water bottles for my family.   This was my very deliberate attempt to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) my wasteful bottled water buying habit. But then, one of my favorite eco-sites, Ideal Bite, did a piece on plastics and I found out that my fancy, new Nalgene bottles might not be such a good idea after all. Yikes! I needed to get to the bottom of this, and fast! What I found out is this. The Nalgene Lexan bottles that I bought (classified as #7 for recycling) are made from polycarbonate plastic. Bisphenol-A (known as BPA) is used in making polycarbonates and apparently it can leach from the bottle into whatever liquid is inside – in very small amounts. Studies on lab animals have shown that BPA is an endocrine disrupter and that exposure can result in damage to the brain, as well as the reproductive and immune systems. WHAT???? So, why haven’t I heard about this before? Why are these things still on the shelves? After more clicking around on the internet, I read that in order to be unsafe “an average adult consumer would have to ingest more than 600 kg (about 1300 pounds) of food and beverage in contact with polycarbonate every day.” Here’s a link to that discussion. But then, on Wikipedia, I read that “eleven industry-funded studies found no risk from bisphenol A, while 90% of 104 independent studies showed possible risks. ” Arggggggh again!! This is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy. How the hell is a busy parent supposed to keep on top of all the latest health scares? That’s one of the main reasons I started this blog. If I can help even one person sort through some of this I’ll be happy. That said, I do think that there is something to be concerned about here, especially when you consider the cumulative effect of all the chemicals we are exposed to these days – it just can’t be good. On the other hand, all those outdoor enthusiasts at REI can’t be completely clueless, can they? They’re still buying Nalgene bottles. And if we freaked out and threw away every product that had a possible health risk associated with it, we wouldn’t have a lot left. So, what to do? My gut feeling is that Nalgene bottles are probably OK if used carefully and if your exposure to other polycarbonates is limited. A few things to consider: • heat and harsh detergents increase the amount of BPA that can leach into your bottle – so hand-washing is recommended • plastics breakdown and get scratched over time, causing more BPA leaching to occur – so replace bottles when they get old • many brands of baby bottles and kid’s sippy cups are #7 polycarbonate plastic (can you believe it???) • other polycarbonate uses include dental sealants (often used in kids), CD’s and the lining in many canned food products And this is only one type of plastic – there are environmental and health-related concerns about a lot of other types of plastics too. In a nutshell, the plastics to avoid are #3, #6 and #7 and the plastics to look for are #1, #2, #4 and #5. Here’s a handy chart you can keep in your wallet. If you want to use a plastic water bottle, #2 HDPE is recommended. If you want to get fancy, go for a cool, but pricey aluminum SIGG bottle. Or just stick with plain old glass as my (someday!) brother-in-law Rhys has done for years. I’m going to keep using my colorful, new Nalgene bottles for now but even so, every time I look at them, I wonder… Comments anyone? P.S. Just to clariify, Nalgene makes many types of plastic bottles, but the most popular are the colorful, #7 polycarbonate ones and these types of bottles are available under many brand names other than Nalgene.

One Comment

  1. Thank you soo much! Your entry helped me a lot! I freaked out when I heard about this because like you, I just bought a Nalgene with a #7 at the bottom. However, it hasn’t been that long ago since I bought it so I guess it’s ok. My worry now is that my nephew has milk bottles and maybe I should check that. Thank you for the info again!

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