The Problem with Plastic

020915_Plastic

When I had made my new commitment to eating clean…

…and reducing toxins from my immediate surroundings I began reading labels on anything from yogurt to toothpaste. I started buying mostly organic fruits and vegetables and paid attention to the amount of filtered water I was drinking. Then it dawned on me – if I was trying to avoid harmful chemicals why was I storing my perfectly clean produce in Tupperware containers? My water bottle? Plastic. Even the tumbler I was drinking my green smoothie from? All plastic. While the possible dangers of plastic and the chemicals it can contain was old news to me (probably is to you, too) I had not paid too much attention to the issue in recent months. After all, one cannot worry about all the things that are slowly trying to kill us at the same time!

However, if I wanted to be conscientious about the food I put in my body I had to take into consideration the things that can inadvertently affect it, too, and started researching the matter in question.

Here is a refresher course:

According to the Environmental Working Group, the toxicity of plastics is not fully understood or adequately tested. What we do know is that most plastics contain chemical additives that change the quality of the plastic for its intended use. Some of these ingredients or additives we know are harmful, like the plastics chemical BPA and phthalates. Others, we just do not know enough about yet.

BPA stands for bisphenol A. It is an industrial chemical that has been used to make polycarbonate plastics and resins since the 1960s. It is often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, aluminum cans, and other consumer goods.

Phthalates are plastic softeners used to increase the plastic’s flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Both of these chemicals are potent hormone disruptors that are increasingly linked to health effects like brain and behavior changes, cancer, and damage to the reproductive system.

Why does the U.S. government not ban the use of BPA?

The FDA had declared BPA safe in 2008, but revised its position in 2010 to include some concerns about the potential harm of early exposure. In 2012, it banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups after some manufacturers had stopped using the chemical in those products due to consumer pressure. The FDA’s latest study from 2014 declared BPA as safe again citing that the chemical compound does not pose health risks in “low doses.”

While the research and the debate is ongoing, everyone – even the FDA – agrees that plastic chemicals routinely migrate, or leach, into the food and beverages they contain. Consequently, these chemicals do make their way into our bodies. In that case, what does “safe low dose” as per the FDA really mean? How much BPA in your food do you feel comfortable with? Um, I’d take zero, please! Thank you very much.

Does BPA free = safe?

The environmental group Center for Environmental Health raised some concern over the common belief that BPA free plastics are a safer alternative. As a reaction to the FDA’s latest study on BPA’s safety, the group tested some children’s drinking cups labeled BPA free and found out that they contained other chemicals that appear to pose an equal if not greater health hazard than their BPA containing counter parts. Those chemicals, acting a lot like BPA, also have a disruptive effect on the body’s endocrine system, raising the same concerns for the health risks associated with BPA – cancer, reproductive problems, early development and obesity, especially in young children.

Now that you remember why plastic is not so fantastic after all what the heck should you do?

Unless you live on a desert island, you cannot avoid plastic altogether. What you can do, however, is to handle plastic as safely as possible to reduce the risk of plastic chemicals getting into your body and wreaking havoc on your health. The EWG recommends the following:

1. Stay away from toys marked with a #3 or “PVC” (also called vinyl) which is often mixed with phthalates. While phthalates were recently banned in newer children’s toys, they may be in toys made before February 2009, as well as in shower curtains, inflatable beach toys, raincoats and toys for children older than 12.
2. Wash your and your kids’ hands before each meal.
3. Avoid polycarbonate containers (sometimes marked with a #7 or “PC”). These plastics are rigid and transparent, like plastic food storage containers and water bottles, among other things.
4. Do not microwave food or drinks in plastic containers — even if they claim to be “microwave safe.” Microwaves heat unevenly, creating hot spots where the plastic is more likely to break down.
5. Do not use plastic containers for hot liquids.
6. Do not reuse single-use plastics.
7. Avoid old, scratched plastic food containers or bottles. Exposures to plastics chemicals may be greater when the surface is worn down.
8. Wash plastics on the top rack of the dishwasher or by hand. This will reduce wear and tear.
9. Limit the use of canned goods. If you cannot find BPA free cans make sure you rinse the canned food before you eat it.
10. Stick to materials that do not leach like glass or stainless steel as much as possible. This seems to be your safest bet for now! As always, I’d recommend you go slow when swapping out your old stuff. Start with the things you use the most like your family’s water bottles. Then take baby steps from there. Make sure you recycle or donate what you do not need anymore.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on glass and stainless steel products I have purchased to replace their plastic counter parts!

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