China makers are yet to respond to concerns over BPA in products other than baby bottles.
China suppliers are unfazed by growing calls in Europe to ban the use of BPA in various consumer products and the impact the move may have on exports.
In the past several months, concern over the substance’s toxicity hazards, which previously revolved around baby feeding products, has widened to other categories utilizing PC and epoxy resin. These include food and beverage containers, plastic kitchenware, plastic components in electronic devices, thermal paper receipts, and sports and leisure and medical equipment.
Fujian Hongbo Printing Co. Ltd manager Jack Chen has heard of recent findings regarding BPA levels in cash receipts, but said it is too early to address the issue.
This is because, at present, there are no international guidelines on BPA content in thermal paper, which according to China Paper Association secretary general Zhao Wei, is relatively low.The substance is added as a developer in the coating.
Meanwhile, Lin Ling, sales executive at Ningbo Yonglin Light Industrial Co. Ltd, said BPA has never been a concern. The maker offers surfboards that utilize epoxy resin for coating.
Lin added that she does not think the material will be banned as it has been used in the industry for decades.
The extensive adoption of BPA-based materials has prompted the European Consumers’ Organisation or BEUC to call for BPA to be added to the REACH Candidate List as an SVHC.The move was done in a March 2011 position paper and is a precondition for more stringent regulations covering the use of the substance.
BEUC also appealed to the European Commission to phase out BPA from consumer products in the next two or three years, provided there are safer substitutes.
Some BPA-free alternatives are already being utilized in China. PP, glass, PES and PPSU, for example, are used in lieu of PC to make baby bottles. This is in response to regulations in several export markets, including Canada, the US and the EU, banning the substance in feeding bottles.
Within this product line, PP has emerged as the primary option among the child-safe materials, although it is not without drawbacks. Compared with PC, PP is softer, warps under high temperatures and has low clarity.
High costs, meanwhile, are deterring PES and PPSU adoption.
As for other product categories, makers have yet to find suitable alternatives. Fujian Hongbo’s Chen said there is no substance that could replace BPA in thermal paper coating at present. Lin of Ningbo Yonglin said the same for epoxy resin.
Fujian Hongbo will consider adopting substitutes once these become available, depending on the cost of the materials and the impact on product prices.
Incompatibility with existing manufacturing processes is compounding makers’ difficulties. Generally, it will take supplierstwo or three years to adapt or upgrade procedures and equipment that can accommodate the new materials.
Preparing for the ban
Amid these challenges, China Paper Association’s Zhao said companies should keep an eye on BPA-related developments and be prepared to make the necessary adjustments to sustain business.
According to Tsang Hing Wo, senior technical services manager for SGS Hong Kong Ltd, alternatives are likely to emerge soon since the use of BPA is hotly debated. But bans, including those suggested by BEUC, should be scrutinized and such proposals should also be supported by scientific research.
The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety said BPA has been used for more than 40 years in materials that come in contact with food with no known health risks.
Nevertheless, the CFS said food container manufacturers should provide instructions, including the intended use of the product, temperature specifications and restrictions on use.
According to Tsang of SGS, makers can stay on top of the issue through various channels such as publications from reputable institutions and organizations, and public forums.