The Art & Science of Getting BPA Out of Products

Jan 13, 2020 5:15:29 PM

Materials Health, Product Design, Chemical Data

The damning report on BPA from the Center for Environmental Health documented the current use of BPA in can linings and found that 38% of the cans tested from four large national retail chains -- Kroger, Albertsons, Dollar Tree, and 99 Cents Only -- still use BPA-containing linings. They also found that in many can linings different toxic materials may be used in place of BPA.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system, even in small amounts. It has been linked to a wide variety of ills, including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, behavioral changes in children and resistance to chemotherapy treatments.” 

There is seepage of BPA into food and skin contact from the ubiquitous point-of-sale receipts can result in ingestion. In the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals (Fourth Report), CDC scientists found indications of widespread exposure to BPA in the U.S. population – everyone over the age of 6 potentially.

Despite thousands of studies on BPA and its risks, it remains a commonly found chemical in everyday products.  In 2009, under considerable pressure from consumers, manufactures started moving away from BPA and marketing their products as “BPA-Free”.  However, the FDA still allows BPA in canned goods, paper, and more some ten years later.

Leading retailers are starting to connect the loop with preferred supplier programs or environmental purchasing guidelines that outline chemicals of concern and require disclosure. Programs like Declare and the Living Building Challenge have put BPA on their Red Lists, signaling that it is not welcome in products meeting these standards.

It’s clear that BPA is everywhere, in virtually everybody, such that making and selling products containing BPA is a risky proposition.  When you add brand identity, corporate sustainability goals, and preferred supplier programs from highly desirable retailers, you create an opportunity for anyone wanting to get rid of BPA.  So why is it still around?


Building Safer Products

BPA is primary used in the wide world of polycarbonate plastics, which show up to consumers in the form of beverage containers, compact disks, plastic dinnerware, impact-resistant safety equipment, automobile parts, and toys. BPA epoxy resins are used in the protective linings of food cans and in dental sealants.

These products are manufactured by thousands of companies, whose product design and supply chain teams are all dealing with the pressures of price, quality, market share and risk.

Sure, it sounds easy, find and eliminate the dangerous chemical and slap a BPA-Free label on it. But product designers, quality control experts and food standards don’t always make this a feasible strategy – especially when you consider the scale of the BPA “supply chain”.  

The change costs are staggering, the data is scattered around the world, and the consequences are few.


Risk & Unknowns of BPA Alternatives

Marketing BPA-Free products has proven to be a strategy for reducing BPA prevalence. But the dark underbelly of BPA-free is the BPA-substitute.  Rather than create entirely new products, it is typical that an alternative ingredient is substituted for BPA in the value chain.  

Designers select chemicals with similar functional properties to those they want to phase out, like BPS or PVC. This makes sense at first glance. You want similar chemical attributes to avoid expensive, full-scale product reformulation.  However, this approach comes with the significant risk of selecting “cousin” chemicals with far less toxicity research behind them. 

We have studied BPA far more than we have BPS, PVC, and their many related chemicals.  We don’t know quite as much about these alternative, but what little we do know is daunting.  Without much good data, many potentially harmful alternatives find their way into products, products that are “technically” BPA-free.  These alternatives may come with as much risk as BPA or more. Who knows?

Where there is an information gap or a perceived information gap, there is a risk.

As the market demands safer products from a brand and regulatory standpoint, investing in unknown or risky chemicals simply doesn’t make sense. How do we change the sketchy practice of regrettable substitutions?


How to drive change?

It is a learning curve.  One must be teacher, scientist, organizational psychologist, and product engineer (and lets face it, artist) to weave the nuances of chemical hazard data and product innovation together to craft a successful business paradigm. 

Those that do this well are truly on the forefront of capitalizing on transparency and sustainability.

The ability to 1) Access chemical hazard data, and 2) See and compare the hazards between several chemicals, and finally 3) Redesign products proactively is powerful.

Until now, unlocking this information and acting on it has proven tough. It is usually expensive and time consuming to use experts who have access to these data and reports.  Similarly, the organizational knowledge and ability to liaise with product design, supply chain, legal, and marketing is complex.


Solutions: Toxnot & Less-toxic Products

Enter software. And sustainability. And the forward- thinking minds behind big data, chemical hazard data, and conscious business models.  What has been formerly a disaggregated field is now a technology opportunity. 

Toxnot is shaking up the field by attacking the pain points of everyone working on chemical hazard management. All of them.

What has historically been a huge cost for companies is no longer.

Toxnot’s software is first of all free to try, and enterprise-level subscriptions are extremely affordable, especially considering the thousands of dollars spent on individual chemical hazard reports, product declarations and the like.

Features like instant uploads, supplier surveys, automated reporting outputs for virtually every reporting scheme, and privacy options that are absolute necessities today are built in.  For complex teams in different business units, these features are essential.  

Simply by building an approachable and smart dashboard for suppliers, designers, and compliance teams, Toxnot can tackle some of the biggest cost sinks and headaches in the chemical hazard game.  

  • Instant chemical screening

 The challenge of finding and assessing risks and alternative chemicals is easy with built in Greenscreen searches. Starting with a baseline substance, the user can see risks and quickly build a dashboard to instantly make comparisons to alternative ingredients – and not just to see relative hazard profiles but also data gaps where suppliers may lack data.

  • Product compliance dashboards

 Now, you can connect product design with product compliance – and the incentive to build less-toxic products is stronger than ever.

Simply knowing BPA or its counterparts exist in your product may not be enough. There is the market to consider and the many rapidly changing regulations.

Toxnot lets you instantly find out if your products meet California Prop 65, Conflict Minerals, RoHS and EU REACH regulations and more.

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