BPA is currently not banned in the UK, except for in baby bottles and food and drink packaging intended for babies.
Food and drink packaging not intended for babies can contain BPA as long as the amount that could transfer to food is not greater than 0.05 mg of BPA per kg of food.
This number comes from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Despite Brexit, the UK still adheres to the EFSA’s BPA policy, which set a limit of the amount of BPA that can transfer onto food at 0.05 mg of BPA per kg of food in 2018.
Consumer pressure and legislation is leading to a gradual reduction of the use of BPA, but it hasn’t been completely banned.
Current legislation on BPA
At the time of writing, food packaging in the UK can contain BPA as long as no more than 0.05 mg of BPA per kg of food will be transferred from the packaging onto the food.
The UK still follows EU laws on BPA, even after Brexit, so current legislation on BPA in the UK is the same as it is in the EU.
EU legislation is based on the European Food Safety Authority’s assessment of the tolerable daily intake (TDI), or safe amount we can consume each day.
However, the EU’s current limits on BPA in food packaging came into force in February 2018, and are still based on the now outdated tolerably daily intake set in 2015.
The new EU legislation in 2018 reduced the specific migration limit (SML) of BPA used in food packaging from 0.6 mg of BPA per kg of food to 0.05 mg of BPA per kg of food, and banned BPA outright in baby food and infant formula packaging.
The specific migration limit (SML) is the maximum amount of a material that is permitted to transfer onto food.
In 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) re-evaluated the risks of BPA in food packaging and reduced its assessment of the tolerable daily intake (TDI) from 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day down to 0.04 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day.
This is a huge 100,000-fold reduction in the assessment of the safe level of BPA intake.
The EFSA revised its assessment of BPA based on new research published between 2013 and 2018 that suggests that BPA has a harmful effect on the immune system.
However, this new recommendation hasn’t been implemented into legislation yet, so current laws are based on the earlier figure of 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day.
What is BPA found in?
BPA is found in a range of everyday household products as well as food packaging.
It’s used as a hardening agent in certain kinds of plastics and resins and is often (though not always) found in plastics marked with the number codes 3 and 7, or the letters PC.
Products that frequently contain BPA are plastics (e.g., toys, containers, utensils), the lining of tin cans used for food, home items like CDs, some toiletries and dental sealant.
The main concerns over BPA are over its use in food and drink packaging, since it can leach into food and then be ingested.
Baby products such as dummies containing BPA have also raised alarm. This has led some countries such as France and Sweden banning BPA in products like dummies and teething rings.
BPA was previously found in thermal paper used for receipts. However, this was banned in the UK and EU in January 2020. However, it has mainly been replaced by bisphenol S (BPS), which has similar health concerns.
Why is BPA considered harmful?
The main concerns over BPA are around their effects on children, babies and foetuses.
The chemical has also been linked to prostate cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, infertility, and damage to foetuses in pregnant women.
BPA leaches its way into our body through exposure and food. Some is excreted through urine, though it’s also been detected in breast milk and umbilical cord blood, meaning that babies are being exposed to the substance in utero.
Is our BPA exposure high enough to be worried about?
In 2021, the EFSA revised the tolerated daily intake of BPA down from 4 micrograms (µg) per kilogram of body weight per day to 0.04 nanograms (ng) per kilogram of body weight per day.
0.04 ng is equal to 0.00004 µg, so this new estimate of the safe daily intake level of BPA suggests that we are currently being exposed to too much.
US research in 2014 found that the average daily intake of BPA was:
- 2 µg per kg of bodyweight for people aged 2 and over
- 3 µg per kg of bodyweight for those aged 0-1 year
- 5 µg per kg of bodyweight for those aged 1-2 years
This suggests that babies and toddlers ingest more BPA than adults.
The EFSA’s data is slightly different. They found that adolescents were the most exposed group, consuming over 1 µg per kg of bodyweight per day.
EFSA research published in 2015 concluded that there is “no consumer health risk from bisphenol A exposure”. The research states that the highest estimated exposure is “three to five times lower than the new TDI”. TDI stands for tolerated daily intake.
However, since the TDI was revised in down 100,000-fold in 2021, we can assume that this conclusion would no longer be correct, and that in fact most of us are exposed to more BPA than would be completely safe.
Have any countries completely banned BPA?
As far as we are aware, no countries have completely banned BPA, but some countries have imposed very strict laws around its use.
Some of the countries with the strictest laws are France, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark.
- France – In 2015, France banned BPA in all packaging that comes into direct contact with food.
- Denmark and Belgium – These two countries have banned BPA in food packaging intended for young children.
- Sweden – Sweden has banned BPA use in food packaging intended for children under the age of three.
The EU has also moved to ban BPA in thermal paper, used for receipts such as those you get at the supermarket and other shops.
So far, the matter has been investigated, but no decision has been made to confirm a ban.
It should also be noted that the rival chemical likely to take the place of BPA is bisphenol S (BPS), which may have a similar effect on health.
Are BPA-free products always safer?
Just because a product of any sort is labelled as “BPA free,” that doesn’t mean it necessarily free from endocrine disrupting chemicals, as most plastics contain a cocktail of unlabelled substances that may or may not have properties similar to BPA.
BPA is often replaced with similar chemicals such as bisphenol S (BPS). When BPA was banned in till receipt in 2020, it was largely replaced with BPS.
One literature review published in 2020 concluded that “dietary exposure to the BPA replacement known as bisphenol S, or BPS, is likely more toxic and seems to cause more pathologies in the reproductive system than the original BPA or any of the other BPA analogues.”
This is very concerning, and means that the solution might not be as simple as just avoiding BPA.
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