Bad plastic and why Bento boxes are just no good

Bento boxes are just super cute. I totally see where the obsession comes from.

And, hey, anything that will make some fussy little ones eat right?

I was so excited that maybe Bento boxes could be offered in Tiny Tapir – after all, packing food from home is a great way to save money as well as to save the environment (no need for disposable packaging if one has packed from home, versus the Styrofoam boxes, throwaway chopsticks and disposable cups and plastic bags – can anyone tell me what the heck is the point of those tiny pink plastic bags that can only fit 1 box in it? Isn’t it the same as just carrying the box in your hand instead of putting it in the bag also?).

However, Bento boxes are made out of cheap plastic. I still haven’t managed to find a bento box or bento accessories that are made out of plastics not containing Bisphenol-A.

Bisphenol-A is found in most plastics – also, in all Tupperware brand plastics. Which really disappointed me because I wanted to stock their Go-Flex range (a box that folds flat).

As the Salon article states, “accumulating scientific research indicates the chemical may be adversely affecting women’s ability to have children and children’s reproductive health. Recent studies link bisphenol A to obesity, breast and prostate cancer, and neurological disorders.”

Eek.

Let me just highlight – adversely affecting … children’s reproductive health. Also linked to obesity and cancer

Not to be alarmist, but seriously, I would rather force my kid to eat plain old boiled round eggs rather than a cute Hello Kitty or Melody shaped egg that was put (while still hot) in a plastic container with Bisphenol-A in it. Talk about perfect conditions for leaching chemicals into food.

Hello, Aren’t I cute? But really I am Evil Kitty, here to make you FAT *evil kitty laughter*

Bisphenol-A products don’t need to be boiled in order to leach – some leaching will happen even without extreme temperatures, which is why a lot of overseas mothers are refusing even to allow babies to use bottles, pacifiers or any product with Bisphenol-A in it.

Anyone have any links to Bento boxes and Bento accessories that are BPA free?

(I realize I’m being a total party pooper with this post…)

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27 thoughts on “Bad plastic and why Bento boxes are just no good

  1. Great article and best of luck! The BPA controversy is even more interesting when you research (even a little) the relationship between the industry, the firm responsible for the safety testing of BPA, and the US Government. Though we don’t have definitive evidence either way, why not just use BPA-free alternatives? How long did it take us to recognize the toxicity of mercury and aspestos?

    More reading on BPA:
    http://hubpages.com/hub/Bisphenol-A-in-Plastic-Bottles-Play-It-Safe-with-Alternatives

    http://www.squidoo.com/bisphenol-A

  2. Thanks for that Sahmiam – I’ve been looking for a collapsible container to put in the store (and for myself!) – Tupperware makes it but it has BPA in it.

    I’ll be contacting rubbermaid now!

  3. Laptop Lunch kits are based on the concept of a Bento box. They are made of BPA and lead free plastic. Of course, they’re nowhere near as cute as that Hello kitty egg, but hey, they’re non-toxic.
    Honestly, plastic in general still scares me when we’re talking about something that moght have contact with food. I’m a big fan of stainless steel tiffin boxes…

  4. Hi Michelle,

    Yep, I just wasn’t sure about getting in the laptop lunch kits, not sure about demand in Malaysia (competing against the really too cute bento boxes, even if they do have BPA).

    Plastic scares me too!

    Metal tiffin carriers are widely available here in Malaysia, but somehow not that popular with office workers – probably they need a redesign somewhat.. hmmm.. next project? LOL

  5. yes, I was very much starting to get into the idea of getting a bento box, but also have recently begun really taking a closer look at chemical leachage associated with plastic. So sad, because I would very much like a cute little bento box! 😦 Oh well, I guess I’ll have to have not as cute lunches and live without excessive chemical leaching, lol.

  6. You can get some tempered glass containers (usually have plastic lids though) that are good for storing and microwaving leftovers and there are some good metal food carriers at places like reusablebags.com.

    Good luck with your search!

    • Hi Marilyn, we’ve got heaps of the metal tiffin carriers here in Malaysia 🙂 they can be bought almost everywhere here in the sundry shops. Glass containers are quite commonly available in department stores too. Problem is that they tend to be quite heavy and most people are making bento boxes for children as well – too heavy for them to carry along to school. Plus they don’t have the all important ‘ cute’ factor!

      Hopefully someone will come up with a good alternative soon… Myself I’m actually quite fond of my glass containers, but I would hesitate to give them to a young child…

  7. Hi – I found that #5 plastic does not have or leach BPA. The #7 is the BPA type (also known as polycarbonate). Organic style magazine ran an article many years ago (June 2005) detailing all the plastics; polypropylene (#5) is generally safe. (That said, I would not put it through a dishwasher so to avoid high temperatures. I have also read, but would like clarification, that Japan has higher food safety standards to meet and therefore is a safer place to purchase items if imported there from China. I am suitably leery of anything made in China.) The very inexpensive bento boxes at Ichibankanusa.com seem to be #5 plastic. Let me know if I read their website incorrectly though!

  8. I got a stainless steel one from lifewithoutplastic.com and not because i’m a hippie or i’d even heard about the deadly plastics just because I think theyre so chic and match my kitchen. Who needs kawaii, when i have something I’m not bashful about leaving out on the counter

    • I like kawaii, but same as you, it is kind of embarrassing pulling the “kawaii” out in a business / work setting! Loving the indian tiffin carriers – we’re quite lucky here in Malaysia they can be found in almost every sundry shop!

  9. Not sure if you were able to find them, Shinzi Katoh boxes are generally made from (PP) Polypropylene; outer lid: (SAN) Styrene Acrylonitrile; inner lid: (PE) Polyethylene. (They are recycleable #’s 5, 2, & 4). Many Bento boxes are made of these non leaching plastics – just look for “polypropolone” “high polyethylene” and “low polyethylene.” They are the most common plastics used in Japan – vs. the plastics used by China (most imported to the US)

    You can find them on ecrater, jbox and ebay. As well as a number of private company sites.

    Good luck.

  10. (Yes, I realize this entry is a year old! LOL I was just browsing the web after searching Bento and BPA Bento after also worrying about the same thing you noted in your blog, I was pleasantly surprised to find most bentos are of the higher quality plastics). Most Bento (most do come from Japan) are actually safe if made in Japan.

    • Hi AJ,

      I haven’t found a bento box brand that’s reliably made in Japan actually, which is where my problem with bento boxes lies. Shinzi Katoh bento boxes, so far as I know are made in China, you can check out the direct link to the Shinzi Katoh boxes here : http://www.shinzikatoh.com/shop/catalog/default.php?cPath=33_60

      Edited to add : Here’s the direct response from Shinzi Katoh :

      “Our bento boxes are both made in Japan and China.

      For your reference,

      “ZEL_DB-LBOXB_0.23J” if last letter said “J” means made in Japan.

      “ANN_73107_0.23C” if last letter said “C” means made in China.”

  11. oh GOD, what a finding! I spent hundreds on my girl’s bento kits 😦

    but LI, those from Japan are really much better than those sold in local shops like 100Yen or so. But I guess they still contains the chemical like u describe 😦

  12. hmmm Chinnee, I think if you buy those made in Japan it’s ok. I mean, I would trust it more.

    I still like the tiffin carriers though! but they are not cute 😦

  13. I completely understand you concerns. I obsessively research BPA to the point I’m neurotic. What really gets to me is the white lining you find in aluminum cans, including baby formula…is high BPA plastic.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/bpa-danger-from-cans.php

    http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/On-your-radar/BPA/US-Congress-told-use-of-BPA-in-formula-cans-safe

    Now consider that your food is stored in these, versus using temporarily as a lunch carrier?

    Here is some more info on Japanese manufacturing, and why I personally feel their products (no matter where produced) are reasonably safe, and still safer than US products (unless stated as BPA free and FDA approved as such).
    Since 1999 Japan has placed restrictions on BPA use in containers which touch food. These manufacturing standard apply to all Japanese companies, no matter where production is… If it is a Japanese company it is held to Japanese standards or it cannot be sold in Japan. That is why buying items sold and bought in Japan, or manufactured by a Japanese company is safe.

    Internationally Japan is the leading nation in reducing BPA in it’s food storage and containment systems – in 1999 they lead the way to reduce BPA in products. Japan began switching or removing plastics used in food consumption due to researched criticism of ISO (the international standard which keeps all plastics compatible globally).

    Meanwhile China can use unsafe levels of BPA because US allows import and productions of higher BPA levels in plastics (Wal Mart sells a LOT of BPA plastics). But since Japan has specific regulations they will not import or sell below their standards. Thus, a Japanese company would be severely penalized for having a manufacturing location which does not meet Japan’s standards for import or export.

    To the extent that you are safer eating and using Japanese food plastics than those in the US.

    http://www.ewg.org/node/20938
    (this discusses how long ago Japan became aware and began reducing public exposure to bpa.) Japan is well ahead of the US standards (which still do not enforce bpa levels).

    The Japanese Plastics Industry Federation sets the standards by which both manufactured and imported plastics must meet. These standards extend to imported and items manufactured by Japanese corporations.

    20 US states have BPA laws introduced in their legistlature, yet as of today only FOUR states regulate BPA use in manufacturing of items used in human consumption and food storage. All four of these state laws just came into law in 2009!

    You can feel safe eating from Japan produced boxes(even if in another country it must still meet Japanese standards).

    I wouldn’t use anything from Wal-Mart’s “made in China” items because the US does not regulate so China produces with the cheapest plastics, although Wal Mart has recently said they plan to phase out BPA leaching plastics. However, again, you can check those recycling numbers to see if they are “good” or “bad” plastic.

    http://www.foodnavigator.com/Financial-Industry/Consumers-fear-the-packaging-a-BPA-alternative-is-needed-now

    Abstract:
    “Due to consumer concern about the toxic effects of BPA, Japanese manufacturers voluntarily reduced the use of BPA in packaging between 1998 and 2003.

    They replaced EXR coating with PET film lamination on the inner surface of cans or used an EXR paint that had much less BPA migration into food instead.

    And following these reduction and replacement moves, a team of assessors claim that virtually no BPA is found in canned foods and drinks in Japan now. ”

    Japan began with complete removal of BPA plastic in canned foods (still used in US), and then began the reduction of BPA plastics in containers which touch food.

    What is interesting is BPA advocates still say Japan approves BPA for use in contact with human food, yet their standards are currently among the most restrictive (which may change as Canada has legislation pending which will effectively ban the use of any bpa plastics – including non leaching bpa.)

    You are definitely safest with Laptop Lunchbox and Thermapod because they do offer a complete guarantee, but they need to make their stuff cuter! LOL I mean, isn’t that the point of Bento – cuteness enhances the appeal of healthy food! LOL (okay, at least it does in my house).

    The only Bento boxes I use are from Japanese manufacture companies; I would also use Laptop Lunches, and Thermapod. But right now I stick with japan…there are definitely China produced Bento style items that are exported for retail sale, but they are not Japanese companies, and they are few and far between as Bento is not a Chinese tradition.

    There is also a woman online who has performed lead testing in the Japanese Bento boxes she has and all came back negative for Lead.

    • wow AJ, FANTASTIC comment! well done you, seems you are super well informed! I didn’t even know about that but feel good that I’m ordering in Japanese made bento boxes now…

    • yep, we have the Rubbermaid collapsible tupperware for sale at Ampang Park, but it’s not a perfect solution as most people don’t know how to close it properly! we’re working on finding some better alternative though…

  14. Tinytapir, it is just about the only area of this type of information I am informed on! LOL And that is just due to an obsessed boss who asked me to research for her! LOL

    I have learned so much from your blog!! And I appreciate that you always answer questions!!! Thank you so much!

  15. Sorry but let me be a bit more constructive

    According to the Green Guide Site, a site owned and ran by National Geographic

    The parts of plastic bento boxes that touch food from known Japanese manufacturers seem to be made of two or three types of plastic: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), or a compound of PET and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) called PET-A.

    For example, the inexpensive bento boxes made by Nakano Co., which includes popular brands like Puti Fresh, Lube Sheep and Clickety-Clack that are sold at Daiso and similar ‘100-yen’ stores, are made of PP. According to The Green Guide ( a site that is owned and operated by National Geographic), PP is a safe plastic, though it’s not very recyclable.

    So to be bluntly brutal..your wrong.

    Remember though To look at the Manufacturer. I hate to say it, and not trying to be racial here..But do not buy from a Chinese company. Their plastics, foods, and assorted items have been known to harbor harmful chemicals and affects

    • well, firstly there’s no need to be rude! It’s not very nice calling someone self righteous. I hope your mother taught you better than that.

      Secondly, thank you for the information, it’s interesting, but not altogether accurate either. You might note that even Shinzi Katoh does not manufacture 100% of its bento boxes in Japan – 80% of them are actually made in China.

      Thirdly, this article also covers other bento making items such as those hot egg molds that are used to create the cute shapes.

      I do know that in the grand scheme of things this is not a big deal, but all the same it’s still something to think about. Lots of things have been declared “SAFE” by lots of big organizations in the past, issues only surfaced years down the road.

      Lastly, your last paragraph completely contradicts the rest of your comment. You do realize that a lot of the “100 yen” store products are made in China right? And that manufacturing in China varies a lot especially when the brand owner changes their manufacturer from time to time for various reasons? I recommend reading “Poorly Made in China”.

      So to be bluntly brutal, you’re wrong too.

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