What's the Problem with Plastics?
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Only 9% of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced has been recycled. The remaining majority is left to accumulate in our landfills and litter our world. And since plastic takes over 400 years to degrade, that's an awful lot of accumulation. In addition to waste stockpiling, there is poor oversight of the production of plastics in the US which leaves room for dangerous chemicals to become main ingredients. Many of the 10,000 chemical ingredients used in US food and food packaging items result in adverse health outcomes. Some are carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances. Others are endocrine disruptors-aka they disrupt hormone signaling, resulting in dysfunctional development, reproduction, neurology and immunity.
Which chemicals in plastics should be avoided? And which products are they typically found in?
Phthalates are potent endocrine disruptors. They are found in household products, personal care products, food wrapper linings and children's toys.
Bisphenols (BPA, BPS, BPF, BHPF) help to give plastic containers their hard see-through qualities. These chemicals can leach into food and liquids--especially when heated. They can also cross the placenta and harm unborn infants.
Perflouroalkyl chemcials (PFCs) are found in grease-proof papers such as the ones used for sandwiches, candies, french fries, pastries, and pizza boxes.
Perchlorate is an antistatic agent used in the plastic packaging of dry foods.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC, #3) can be found in commercial cling wrap, cooking oil bottles, and some water bottles.
Polystyrene (PS, #6, #7) is typically found in disposable cups, bowls and colored plastic utensils.
What are some less toxic alternatives to plastic? How can I limit my exposure to these harmful chemicals?
Polyethlene pterephthalate (PETE) do not reuse
High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
PCV free brands
But the safest options?
Waxed cloth or brown paper
If you should choose to purchase plastics (nearly unavoidable in the standard American lifestyle), there are some measures you can take to decrease your exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. First, as mentioned briefly above, DO NOT heat plastics. Plastics are not microwave nor dishwasher safe, even if the packaging labels them as so. Avoid allowing them to come into contact with, let alone contain, anything hot. Heat will cause the chemicals to leach out of them and into whatever they are in contact with--this is especially unfortunate if that happens to be something you plan to consume! Second, transfer food and beverages to non-plastic consumers as soon after purchase as you can. Less time in plastic equates to less risk of chemical leaching. Last, toss plastics as soon as they begin to show signs of wear (discoloration, cracks..). Once a plastic begins to degrade, it's potential for leaching chemicals drastically increases.
It's never too late to start saying, "peace-out" ✌️ to plastics, even if it's just one water-bottle at a time.
The Institute for Functional Medicine. (2018.) The Problem with Plastics.