02 September 2019

Chemicals in food plastics and how to avoid them

Basically there are heaps - and many have been subjected to little scrutiny. Last post we examined BPA - whose problems are well documented. However, the expense and time required to research each new plastic and its chemicals seems to take a back seat to the expediency of the next “convenient” product.

So this week, some more real culprits and how to avoid problems.

Also, many thanks to all who have expressed their condolences following the death of my main teacher Sogyal Rinpoche. Rinpoche was an extraordinary teacher. In my long experience with him, unfailingly kind and caring, incredibly knowledgeable and wise and hilariously funny!

Coming from the dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpoche came to know the Western mind extremely well and he melded this knowledge with the ancient wisdom and profound understanding of the mind that came from his traditional training. As such, he shaped my life and my work.

If you feel any benefit from what I may have to offer, then you have benefited from the life and work of Sogyal Rinpoche, yet life goes on and so first …


     Thought for the day

     If we listen with a silent mind, 
     As free as possible 
     From the clamour of preconceived ideas, 
     A possibility will be created 
     For the truth of the teachings to pierce us, 
     And for the meaning of life and death 
     To become increasingly and startlingly clear.

                            Sogyal Rinpoche

PVC is used for bottles, cling wrap and screw-cap jars. It is hard and rigid (think pipes for drains and gutters etc), and it is regarded as relatively inert. However, it can break down, form microplastics and then initiate problems of its own.

The real issue with PVC, as with most base plastics, is that to make it malleable, plasticisers are added in much the same way water is added to clay for softening. Plasticisers can make up as much as 40% of the plastic material and 2 of the common ones used for food packaging, phthalates and epoxidised soybean oil (ESBO) have serious doubts raised about their safety.

DEHP is the phthalate most often used as a plasticiser for PVC. There is general agreement it can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys, and a US study has found an increased risk of diabetes and obesity in men.

ESBO is another frequently used additives to PVC, especially when used for containers or packaging for food. It functions as a stabiliser as well as a plasticiser. Lid seals made with it end up producing some chlorohydrins that are known to be toxic. Chlorohydrins have been detected in foods closed in glass screw-cap jars - check inside the lid for a plastic layer… that is the potential source.

polyethylene terephthalate or PET, is in the polyester family (polyester is the common name used for fabrics and includes Trademarks like Terylene and Dacron) and it also is used widely for food and liquid containers and other packaging (where it is commonly called PET).

PET is also suspected of being an endocrine disruptor, particularly through leaching of phthalates and antimony.

These are compounds that can leech out of cans and their linings into our food. If you are into canned food, you might want to sit down here…

Migrates from cans may contain oligomers, catalysts, reaction accelerators, epoxidized edible oils, amino resins, acrylic resins, various esters, waxes, lubricants, and metals. Furthermore, non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) such as impurities, reaction by-products and degradation products generally constitute a part of the migrate. Exposure estimates for these often complex mixtures are difficult or even impossible to calculate, because many NIAS are unknown or unidentified substances.

Many migrating substances are completely unknown, but they may strongly contribute to the toxicity of the migrate.

The real answer is actually simple and I suspect we all know what it is but shirk making it due to a combination of convenience, habit and money.

The real answer is to keep all plastics away from your food.

As much as possible, grow your own food or buy organic. Then prepare as much as possible from base ingredients. For example, instead of using a prepared, packaged pasta sauce, start from scratch and make you own. To help overcome the time issues, celebrate good health for you and the family, as well as making food preparation an active form of mindfulness and meditation. Win - win!

Do all possible to avoid buying anything wrapped in plastic - those supermarket trays of cling wrapped vegetables give me the horrors.

Find stores that do supply paper bags for food or take your own recycled ones.

Use glass, stainless steel, ceramics for food storage.

We have quite a stock of stainless steel containers as our garden can be very productive at times and we regard freezing as a reasonable way to extend the season.

Use wooden or stainless steel cooking implements - so much nicer to the feel anyway.

Avoid cans wherever possible.

Maybe the occasional one is OK; it does seem BPA is excreted from our bodies relatively quickly, however, regular ingestion is associated with all the problems listed so beware. Tuna and condensed soups in cans seem to have the highest levels of BPA. Canned fruit seems less problematic than canned vegetables.

Avoid exposing plastics used for, or containing food to high temperatures. This includes avoiding microwaving (really bad), high cooking temperatures and cars on hot days - especially with water bottles in summer

Buy a reusable drinking cup and carry it with you.

Avoid water and other drinks in plastic bottles - big source of microplastics and huge waste issue.

If on town water, use a water filter - either in-line (as in integrated into your plumbing) or as a water filter jug. These clear microplastics and may well filter unwanted chemicals including drugs in the water system. Portable water filter jugs are available for travel and we use ours regularly.

If the plastic content of a product is not clearly labeled, know some but not all plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA. Remember, BPA substitutes like BPS and BPF seem to have similar “anti-androgenic” hormonal effects as BPA.

If you do have to use a plastic, then it seems numbers 2 and 5 are probably the safest - high density polyethylene and polypropylene.

This is a tricky one given they are in such widespread use.

We do now know holding a receipt and eating food, especially after using hand sanitizer, results in high blood levels of active BPA, so at least wash well before eating.

Consider carrying an envelop for receipts so they do not contaminate clothing or wallets.

Do not necessarily be re-assured by new receipts proclaiming to be ‘BPA-free”.

They may be just BPS instead.

And, the BPS in receipts may be up to 40% more BPS than the amount of BPA, so BPA-free could be even worse! In fact, all BPA-replacement products tested to date released chemicals “having reliably detectable oestrogenic activity.”

We all know this now… Do all possible for all the good reasons to remove single-use plastic from your life and support companies that are moving away from plastic packaging.


Lobby your local and national office bearers and parliamentarians urging them to to support all these recommendations with their own support and legislation where needed.

Our local council of Yarra Ranges is about to vote on a bill to declare a climate emergency and take strong action within our area. Ruth and I have actively supported this push and it may well succeed.

It does seem there are healthy and viable alternatives industry could use; the problem is they may cost a few cents more. Let people know you are willing to pay - including the supermarket operators and your local stores.

And remember, for millennia the world managed just fine without any plastics at all. With thought, planning and a willingness to change some deeply ingrained habits, we may well retain the benefits plastics have brought and do away with the almost disastrous consequences that have followed.

Next post will feature the summary of a recent senate enquiry into the damaging effects of plastics that is full of references and confirms the need for major action…


  1. Hello, my enema bucket comes in silicon or PVC. I always opted for the silicon but do u think PVC enema tubing would be toxic? Considering bthat it is scalded with hot water before and after use? Thank so much, and deep vondolecond for the death of your teacher, Sogyal x

  2. Dear Courtney, PVC is usually quite hard so it is likely to be the base for the bucket, but I would imagine the tubing is silicone or some such that is softer and more pliable. PVC is reasonably inert yet as you say high temperatures could liberate the plasticisers in it. I am not aware of an alternative for the bucket. Are you saying you can get a silicone bucket because if so that may well be better. Sorry to be a bit vague but finding out what is in with the silicone is probably difficult too but could reveal a problem there too - not sure...