Safety of plastic containers commonly found in the home

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The Issue

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used to make a hard, clear plastic known as polycarbonate.  Polycarbonate is used in a limited number of household containers, including baby bottles, sippy cups, re-useable water bottles (sports bottles), pitchers, water carboys, tableware and food storage containers.

The Government of Canada recently completed a risk assessment of BPA under the Chemicals Management Plan. The current research tells us the public should not be concerned.  In general, most Canadians are exposed to very low levels of bisphenol A in polycarbonate. It does not, therefore, pose a health risk. However, the Government wants to be prudent and further reduce exposures of newborns and infants under 18 months. Science tells us that exposure levels are below those that could cause health effects, however, due to the uncertainty raised in some studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A, the Government of Canada is taking action to enhance the protection of infants and young children.

The proposed ban applies only to baby bottles made of polycarbonate.  All other containers made with other types of plastics can continue to be used safely. Please refer to the bisphenol A fact sheet for information on the proper use of polycarbonate plastic containers.

Plastic Coding System and What it Means

In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI) introduced a coding system for different types of plastics.  The sole purpose of the coding system is to simplify the process of sorting and recycling plastic bottles and containers - it has nothing to do with health and safety.

The SPI code is a three-sided triangular arrow with a number one (1) through seven (7) in the centre and letters underneath.  Each number identifies the plastic from which the bottle or container is made.  The SPI coding system is voluntary; not all plastic products carry a code.

Plastics identified by codes 1 through 6 do not use BPA in their manufacturing process.

  1. polyethylene teraphthalate (PETE or PET)
  2. high density polyethylene (HDPE)
  3. polyvinyl chloride (PVC) vinyl (V)
  4. low density polyethylene (LDPE)
  5. polypropylene (PP)
  6. polystyrene (PS)

Code (7) is used to identify 'Other Plastics'.  Polycarbonate is a code seven (7) plastic; however, the majority of code seven (7) plastics are not polycarbonate.

Is My Baby Bottle Made of Polycarbonate?

To determine if a baby bottle is made of polycarbonate, look for the SPI code on the bottom.  If you see a code seven (7), the bottle may be polycarbonate.  Keep in mind, however, that code seven (7) is also used for other plastics.  To be absolutely certain, check to see if the plastic is identified by its name or acronym (PC for polycarbonate) somewhere on the product or package, or contact the manufacturer.

What Parents and Caregivers Can Do Before the Proposed Ban Comes into Effect

Do not put very hot/boiling fluids in baby bottles

Studies show that the amount of BPA released into the contents of baby bottles is very low when the fluid is at room/serving temperature.  The release of bisphenol A into the fluid increases when very hot/boiling fluid is added to polycarbonate bottles.

If you choose to continue using polycarbonate baby bottles, do not place very hot or boiling fluids into them.

Use alternatives: In anticipation of a potential ban, many retailers have already removed polycarbonate baby bottles from shelves and replaced them with alternatives, including:

  • baby bottles or baby bottle liners (flexible plastic inserts) made of polyethylene (PE) which is SPI codes two (2) or four (4) or polypropylene (PP) which is SPI code five (5); and
  • glass baby bottles.

Safety notice concerning the use of glass baby bottles: Glass baby bottles can break, posing a risk of serious cuts to children.  Additionally, glass can chip or crack during sterilization, allowing glass splinters to end up in the child's beverage. Several precautions should be used when using this type of bottle:

  • Do not give a glass bottle to a child who can hold their own bottle and walk;
  • Do not allow a child to go to sleep with a glass bottle;
  • Inspect glass bottles carefully and regularly; bottles that are scratched, cracked or chipped bottles should be immediately discarded.

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