I was in Boston yesterday promoting a good chemical known as PLA (short for polylactic acid). Meanwhile, back home, the rest of the Maine team campaigned effectively against a bad chemical, namely BPA (also known as bisphenol A).
My presentation at EPA’S New England Green Chemistry Networking Forum highlighted the benefits of PLA, the biodegradable plastic that’s inherently safer than petrochemical plastic. We’re working with a coalition of businesses and researchers to develop the technology to make PLA from Maine potato waste and wood chips. Such locally sourced feedstocks offer greater health and sustainability benefits than the corn-based PLA that’s commercially available today.
There’s tremendous growing market demand for more sustainable materials and safer chemicals. Investment in bioplastics will boost Maine’s rural economy and create good, green jobs in manufacturing. Stronger regulation of old hazardous chemicals also levels the playing field in favor of safer alternatives, creating new business opportunities for innovative new safer chemicals and products.
That positive regulatory driver played out back in Maine, where the Board of Environmental Protection voted unanimously to adopt sweeping rules to promote safer alternatives to BPA. (See below for the extensive coverage of this story). That toxic substance was designated the first priority chemical under Maine’s landmark chemical policy reform, the Kid Safe Products Act of 2008.
BPA wreaks hormone havoc that threatens cancer, brain damage, reproductive harm and obesity, especially for the developing fetus or child. BPA escapes freely from two petrochemical plastics, as an essential ingredient in widely used polycarbonate and epoxy-based resins.
The Maine BPA rule sets a new high bar for driving safer alternatives to BPA and models the essential elements of a safer chemicals management system:
PHASE-OUT. By January 1, 2012, the use of BPA is banned in all reusable food and beverage containers. Nine other states, Canada and other countries have already banned BPA in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. Washington state added a ban on BPA in plastic sports water bottles. Maine goes farther by also banning BPA in thermoses, food storage containers, 5-gallon water bottles and for any other similar polycarbonate plastic use.
ALTERNATIVES ASSESSMENT. By January 1, 2012, the manufacturers of infant formula and baby food must determine the availability of safer alternatives to BPA in food packaging for infants and toddlers. The epoxy-resin linings of food and beverage cans and jar lids cause significant BPA-contamination of infant formula and baby food. Two states, Connecticut and Vermont, have enacted prospective bans on BPA in food packaging for babies. However, the availability of safer alternatives has posed a stumbling block to food packagers wanting to make the switch to BPA-free linings more quickly. Maine’s rule requires a systematic search for alternatives that are not only safer but also effective, affordable and commercially available.
CHEMICAL USE REPORTING. Within six months, manufacturers of toys, child care articles and tableware must report to the State of Maine their use of BPA (or polycarbonate plastic) in any of their products that may expose the developing fetus or child. A child is defined as anybody up to age 18 except that regulation of food packaging is limited to children age three years old and younger, and BPA reporting is limited to toys intended for children up to age 12. Incredibly, under our broken chemical safety system, no one knows what dangerous chemicals are used in which common products. Maine’s rule takes a bold step to filling that data gap on BPA, which may likely be used in some plastic toys, teething rings, pacifiers, plates, bowls, spoons and other household items. BPA exposure results from sucking or handling the product, from contaminated food and drink, and from ingesting or breathing household dust that absorbs BPA shed from the plastic.
By requiring alternatives assessments and chemical use reporting, chemical policies like Maine’s send a strong signal to the marketplace – invest in safer alternatives. Without even resorting to a ban, an honest search for safer chemicals prompts business decisions to make the switch. Chemical use reporting also incentivizes the development of greener chemistry. Once disclosed to the State, consumer and investor discover that companies are using inherently dangerous chemicals like BPA in their products. Then they vote with their dollars. That’s how the free-market works when there’s adequate information available about a product.
The two events yesterday in Boston and Augusta, Maine illustrate different but related drivers to a greener, safer future. Smart businesses are riding the cresting wave of green chemistry to seize economic opportunity and market share far ahead of any regulatory requirements. The toy and chemical industries that fight against positive change will be slammed instead by a wave of regulation, their products discarded in the market by savvy customers and investors wanting safer, more sustainable goods.
Either way green chemistry and safer alternatives are on a roll. Business opportunity and firm regulation means a healthier economy and healthier people.
BPA News Coverage