The 'dangers' of plastic packaging

KUALA LUMPUR - It is a common practice among Malaysians to drink teh tarik, kopi O, and other hot drinks from a plastic bag or cup.

But doing that can apparently lead to weight gain.

Shimadzu-Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) centre for xenobiotic studies head and senior consultant Prof Dr Mustafa Ali Mohd is, therefore, urging for the plastic packaging for hot or citric drinks to be banned immediately.

"Paper cups should be used instead."

Mustafa said plastic bags and cups contain phthalates and may also contain Bisphenol A (BPA)

Heat, acidity and alkalinity, he said, enhances the leachate levels of these substances into food or drinks, adding that phthalates may cause obesity.

"This is because phthalates has been shown to affect the fat metabolism in the body and this may result in obesity.

"This has already been demonstrated in animal studies," he said.

The most widely used phthalates are the suspected carcinogenic di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP) which resulted in the food scare recently.

Phthalates, said Mustafa, are esters of phthalic acid.

They are mainly used as plasticisers, which is a substance added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency and durability.

"Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) which cause destruction to the system that regulates the hormones in our body.

"A small fluctuation in the composition of the hormones in the body can bring about drastic effects.

"For example, if the estrogen levels in a woman's body increases, this can result in breast cancer.

"If a person has extra estrogen, he or she may have more feminine characteristics and if they have more testosterone, they may be more masculine.

"That is why the body controls this all the time." Phthalates, he said, also affect fertility rates and puberty in children.

Aside from phthalates, Mustafa said most plastic packaging used for drinks may also contain BPA.

He said BPA had properties similar to estrogen when it binds to the receptor in the body.

"Some studies observe that they alter the puberty onset time which means that those exposed to it could mature faster."

Mustafa said BPA would result in the derailment of the normal growth process of children, especially the fertility and the reproductive system.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the ministry would "seriously consider giving more accurate advice to the public on how to use plastic packaging".

"We have also engaged a local university to conduct a study on the migration of melamine and DEHP into food and drinks.

"The migration of melamine and DEHP does happen, but the quantity is usually very low."

'Most packaging don't need phthalates'

Most plastic food packaging and storage items do not require phthalates as plasticisers, said the Malaysian Plastics Forum. The forum's Education and Awareness chairman Ahmad Khairuddin Sha'aban said phthalates are not required for food packaging and storage items.

These include packaging wraps, containers, freezer trays, beverage bottles and re-sealable bags.

Ahmad Khairuddin said it is mandatory for manufacturers to comply with food contact regulations.

They include the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European food contact articles or packaging regulations for food contact applications.

He said phthalates are often erroneously referred to as if they are a single substance.

Inactual fact, there are about 14 phthalates currently in the market.

"Too often, individuals mistakenly attribute the characteristics of one phthalate to the whole group.

However, Ahmad Khairuddin said phthalates exhibit a variety of physical, chemical and toxicological properties.

"It must be considered as individual substances, not as a group,"Ahmad Khairuddin said.