Thursday, 6 November 2008

Biggest Tupperware Party @ USM

OK, it doesn't look like a party, does it? Serious stuff was discussed concerning safety and sustainability of plastics. On the Panel was Jan Steven and David Kasuma from Tupperware USA and Jamil Ismail from USM. At the end of the party, everyone got a door gift from Tupperware Malaysia - so in my book it was a tupperware party.

About 100 participants showed up on a Saturday morning (1st Nov 2008). The Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association (MPMA) sent a big delegation led by its President. PEWOG, CAP, SERI and others were there. Don and Mylene made a U-turn from another conference and headed straight for our Plastic Forum, giving me an earful about not inviting them (come on, of course we did, they are our favourite NGI as they call themselves, non-governmental individuals).

One of the main objectives was to address concerns about the use of plastics. We prepared a set of questions and gave it to the panel and the two Tupperware guys came back with a slide presentation which was good and informative. Of course the MPMA jumped in at every opportunity to defend plastic. I was rather hoping that they would just sit and listen to all the concerns but to be fair, many in the hall felt enriched by the information given. It was an excellent meeting of opposing views. And depending on who you talk to you will go away either thinking polystyrene is safe or otherwise.

During lunch I told the Tupperware rep that I was still ambivalent when comes to making a recommendation about whether it is safe to use plastic ware. I delayed writing this entry so that I could review the video recording of the forum. And I searched the blogs and web for more information. Yes, we know Tupperware sets very high standards for its products. But I was concerned more with the fundamental issue of plastic. In my summing up at the end of the forum, I said that it is just too difficult - give us something simple. Did you know that melamine ware should never be put in the microwave? (We used to do that at home) And you know those clear plastic containers called PP (polypropylene) which is claimed to be microwave safe? Yes, turn over the container and look underneath. Well, they should not be used in the microwave. If you still insist polystyrene is safe, please, don't use it in the microwave. Boiling ketupat and lemang in plastic bags? The local plastic manufacturers were insistent that it is safe. In fact, they were alarmed that the ministry had banned the plastic ketupat and lemang based on "hearsay" which badly affected the business of the manufacturers producing these "delicacies". Also badly affected were the pasar malam hawkers and caterers. Me, I am still staying away from plastic food.

So, here's the gist :
  • Plastics are made from chemicals (now you know?)
  • All chemicals are inherently toxic, at a certain level
  • It is safe (really?) if the chemicals detected in the plastic ware is below a certain level
  • And there is no question about it. Chemicals will leak or leach from the plastic container when you use them. This is not disputed by the experts. In fact, they said so.
  • So, reputable companies (like Tupperware) go through extensive testing to make sure that the leaks are within safety regulations. p.s. do you think our backyard factories in Malaysia do any of these stringent tests for plastic bags and polystyrene containers? Or for that matter those plastics from China?
  • And do you know why it leaches? You know that plastics are made by joining up long chains of monomers, into, what else, polymers. Guess what? Not all the monomers join up nicely to become polymers. So what do you get? Residue monomers. These rascals are the ones that will get into your food under the right conditions. In particular during high heat such as when heating oily food in microwave.
So, bottomline, plastic - use with care. Not all plastics are equal. As a consumer, we should not be burdened with having to be overloaded with so much information just because inventors and manufacturers has produced all these beautiful products using toxic chemicals. I want green. I hope I live another 25 years. Know why? Because my daughter Vivian went to an EcoFilm Fest in KL and told me that plastic is not going to be a problem by then. You guess it. Petroleum will either run out or be too expensive to make cheap products you just throw away. Hurrah for the green generation.

Alright, melamine. I found it hilarious that the biscuit manufacturers in Malaysia got an expert from Imperial College to tell the public that you would have eat a ton of biscuits to die from melamine poisoning. Alright, I exaggerate but the point is they should instead assure the loyal consumers that there shall not be any melamine or any toxic chemicals in their food products. And that is always the position of the manufacturers whether it is plates, or bags, or canned food, or pesticides in vegetables, or tupperware or rubbermaid - within safe limits. And hey, did you know that to make melamine ware, they also use formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen? And no, you cannot make melamine ware without formaldehyde!

BPA - Bisphenol-A. If you have not heard of this, you must be totally blissful unconcern about poisons. It is added to make hard transparent plastic called polycarbonate commonly used in plastic baby bottles. And also needed to get you to Maldives or Hawaii or Bali. Ha, it's used to make the windscreens of aeroplanes. Yes, that hard. Can't imagine why they need such resistant plastic for a little baby. The Canadian government has banned the plastic baby bottle. And the latest is that the FDA has been lambasted by an independent advisory panel for not looking at the scientific evidence properly when saying that BPA is safe. The jury is still out but there are concerns raised (just like polystyrene) and they are going back to the labs. Meanwhile, which Tupperware products uses BPA? I got to take my hats off to these consumer agitators in the U.S.A. They know how to squeeze your, eh (censored)... well, Jan Steven, the expert who came to USM, after much persuasion released the whole list (?) of Tupperware products and the type of plastic used. Most of their containers are made of PP but some contain BPA. Take a look yourself. Way to go Jan.

p.s. perhaps all plastic ware manufacturers should emulate Rubbermaid.

1 comment:

Melvin Lim said...

yes, agree, I also started to use BPA free baby bottle for my son now. Even selling some to those who can't find in the market, or those expensive ones.