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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Polycarbonate Plastics and Bisphenol A

We encourage you to join in the forum discussion instead of posting a comment on this blog entry. Studies about Bisphenol-A (BPA), the plastic monomer used to make polycarbonate plastic, have been getting a ton of media attention lately, and our customers have had quite a few questions about it. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we wanted to share with you what the research currently shows and what we, as a company, are doing to address the issue. Over the past 20 years or so, polycarbonate plastic has become ubiquitous in the U.S. It’s very hard, as clear as glass – yet virtually unbreakable, lightweight and inexpensive. Because of these unique properties, it is used widely to make water bottles, aluminum can linings, and many other food containers. But in the past few years, a growing body of research has raised some difficult questions about polycarbonate plastic, and Bisphenol-A (BPA), the monomer out of which the plastic is made. Dozens of studies have been published on the subject in the last few years, and they show that in certain quantities, Bisphenol-A can act as an endocrine disruptor. The human body essentially mistakes these substances for its own natural endocrine hormones, which can impact a number of systems in our bodies. Some studies have also suggested that BPA can leach from polycarbonate plastic, although it has not been clearly established whether the amount of BPA that might leach from food containers causes harm. However, the research that has been done definitely raises some important questions, and we believe that much more work needs to be done to answer these questions and help consumers, businesses and the government understand the safety of this substance. So, what are we doing on the issue? First, we’re closely following the research as it emerges and keeping our shoppers and team members informed. You can read more about our policies and some of the most recent research on our website.  A quick overview of some of the steps we’ve taken to date:
  • In 2006, we were the first major U.S. retailer to completely ban the use of polycarbonate plastic in baby bottles and child drinking cups. Even though scientific consensus has not established that these products are harmful, we took this precautionary measure because of the emerging evidence of their risk.
  • We are also actively supporting the transition away from polycarbonate plastic where alternative materials are available. About 2 ½ years ago, most of the individual reusable water bottles in our stores were made from polycarbonate; today this material represents just a small number of the bottles we sell. We’re also working with manufacturers in other areas (aluminum cans, for example) to encourage the development of alternative packaging.
  • Our Quality Standards team is carefully following the research on this topic, and we’re working with some of the leading researchers in this field to understand their findings.
Our goal is to offer our shoppers alternatives to suspected endocrine-active packaging materials where they exist. Changing packaging is quite an involved process, and we promise that we will continue to closely examine the packaging materials used in our stores and search for the safest and most functional options. I said, the research is ongoing into this issue and we want to know what you think about all of this. To that end, we’ve set up a discussion on Bisphenol-A in our online forum – please join us! This is a place for you to make a comment, share your concerns, alert us to research or anything else you want to share on the topic of BPA. We’ll keep you posted on the latest developments as we learn about them. We certainly don’t have all the answers but we are planning to stay on the leading edge of this issue and understand the questions. We encourage you to join in the forum discussion instead of posting a comment on this blog entry.