FAQ: BPA and Alternatives
We've addressed some of the most common questions about BPA and alternatives below. Visit our Clear Science section for more information about published research linking BPA to increased breast cancer risk.
What is the problem with BPA?
Bisphenol A (BPA) has been associated with cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancer, reproductive dysfunction, metabolic dysfunction and diabetes, and neurological and behavioral disorders.
Present in many household products, BPA is also commonly found in the epoxy lining of metal food cans and in polycarbonate plastic food containers, including some baby bottles, microwave ovenware and eating utensils.
Because BPA is an unstable polymer and is also lipophilic (fat-seeking), it can leach into canned foods, infant formula and other food products, especially when heated. Once in food, BPA can move quickly into people—a particular concern for women of childbearing age and young children.
Why isn’t “BPA-free” sufficient?
We are starting to see some manufacturers move away from using BPA in their cans linings. This is a good first step and a victory for consumers who have been demanding BPA-free cans for years. Companies making this move deserve congratulations as well as encouragement to ensure that BPA replacements are safe.
To that end, it's important that our activism doesn’t stop with BPA. Manufacturers may remove BPA from their cans, but "BPA-free" can't promise that the alternative is well-studied or safe. For example, while most polycarbonate plastic baby bottles are BPA-free, recent testing has shown that some still contain chemicals that act like estrogen.
As consumers, we have the right to know what’s in our food. It’s not enough for food companies to tell us their cans are BPA-free. We need to know what alternative companies are using. And we need to know that those alternatives are something we want to feed our families.
In order to ensure safety, we need manufacturers to disclose their alternatives publicly.
Are some alternatives dangerous?
Canned food manufacturers are using a variety of technologies to replace BPA. Unfortunately, due to our outdated system for evaluating chemicals in food packaging, it is perfectly legal for manufacturers to use chemicals that have been linked to cancer or other health harms in food packaging.
For example, formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) and phthalates (chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys because of their toxicity) are both on the FDA’s list of approved packaging additives.
According to the can-manufacturing industry, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a potential replacement for BPA. Yet vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen and may require other potentially harmful additives to make it suitable for lining cans.
What are the best alternatives?
The technology and research on alternatives are constantly shifting. Some alternatives, like polyester (also known as PET or #1 plastic) and the plant-based oleoresin, appear to be safer but more research is needed to be sure.
Alternative packaging methods, such as jars or shelf-stable pouches, can be used in place of cans. Aseptic packaging, like Tetra Pak containers (which are lined with PET), are also a good way to avoid BPA. Not all communities recycle these containers, however, so check with your waste management company to be sure.