Traders of reusable plastic products have gone beyond durability and fancy designs as a selling point to include non-carcinogenic properties.
Walking along the busy Tom Mboya Street on a warm evening, roadside water bottle traders scramble to win us with the same line – “My bottles are BPA-free.
“You can’t develop cancer with these bottles and food dishes,” some told us.
Some even proceeded to ask us to check the bottom of the bottles for the BPA-free label. We oblige and flip a few bottles over, revealing the BPA mark.
BPA (bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical long used in making plastics, but which has been found to dissolve into water or food put in a plastic container, especially when the water/food is hot. The same applies to babies’ milk bottles. Recent studies indicate long exposure to BPA could cause cancer and brain complications.
The vilified chemical, BPA, has suffered the same fate as lead in paints, which has since been banned in most countries, and cholesterol in edible oils.
Cancer is one of the leading killers in Kenya, claiming the lives of 32,000 Kenyans on average a year, with about 45,000 new cases reported per year, according to World Health Organisation.
In 2017, Kenya banned use of plastic bags among shoppers in the ongoing fight against pollution. Plastics are part of petrochemical products derived from oil, a fossil fuel.
The next day, on a sunny afternoon, we make our way to Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), where there’s an exhibition. Here, we meet Peter, a Kenyan dealer of China-made plastic water bottles.
We wonder what would prompt him to buy exhibition space, topping Sh10,000, only for him to display the all-too common water bottles that can be found displayed by the roadside. For a paltry Sh100 one can get a nice-looking water bottle on the streets, yet Peter is selling his at a minimum of Sh450 a piece, depending on the size and design.
His selling point?
“They’re all BPA-free,” he says proudly.
The young man explains that in addition to the label verification, a buyer should always go for bottles and food dishes made of a firm, hard plastic material.
A few steps from his water bottles stall, we find yet another dealer in plastic drinkware, branded polysafe, imported from Australia. You almost can’t differentiate the plastic drinkware from glassware. They feel, weigh and look the same.
A young man sporting dreadlocks saunters around to meet us. His first proposition is that the products are BPA-free. Another selling point, he says, is that due to high quality they’re reusable with zero breakages, unlike glasses. This has made bars and nightclubs his top clients since the plastic drinkware look just as fancy as glasses and are designed for multiple uses including for sipping wine, cocktails and beer.
Interestingly, and since it’s widely known plastics are non-biodegradable waste, the dealer says: “Polycarbonate is 100 per cent recyclable and has a carbon footprint almost one tenth the size of the glass equivalent. It uses half as much energy and creates seven times less carbon dioxide during its production, compared to glass.”
Takeaway for consumers
- Use BPA-free plastic containers
Focus among plastic manufacturers is fast shifting toward BPA-free products. Look for products labeled BPA-free. If a product isn’t labeled, keep in mind that some, but not all plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.
- Cut back on cans
Reduce your use of canned foods since most cans are lined with BPA-containing resin.
- Avoid heat.
Microwaving polycarbonate plastics is generally discouraged because the plastic may break down over time and allow BPA to leach into foods.
- Use alternatives
Use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic containers.