Health and plastic
The effects of our plastic addiction are now becoming apparent. We are already on track to have more plastic pollution in the ocean than fish. Just as plastic is detrimental to our environment, studies have shown a direct link that plastic has on human health.
Not all plastic is created equal
To most individuals, plastic is just that... plastic; you toss your plastic water bottles, laundry soap, and miscellaneous packaging into the recycling bin and poof! It all gets a new life down the road making things all fine and dandy, right? Wrong (if you are curious how recycling isn't a solution check out our post on Why Recycling isn't the Solution). There are actually thousands of different kinds of plastic, based on their composition you can get thick or thin, different colors, textures, malleability, translucency, buoyancy, and so on and so forth[i]. Because of this material with endless possibilities, we find it in almost every aspect of our lives. I challenge you to just take a moment and think about how many things you own that are made with or are entirely plastic, both single use and reusable. Now think of how many things you touch every day that are plastic. Though there are thousands of various compositions of plastic, they are generally divided up into seven categories and identified by a Resin Identification Code (the number in the triangle). The most toxic of these are #7, #3, and #6 versus #1, #2, #4, and #5 that tend to be a bit safer[ii].
This is the commonly used for food and drink packaging, although considered “safe” PET leeches metal antimony, which is also used in products such as batteries and metal sheathing and is a carcinogen to humans according to the US National Library of Medicine[iii].
Similar to PET, #2 is also considered a relatively safe plastic that is your thicker, stronger kind used in milk, plastic bags, juice, cleaning, and shampoo packaging. Although some food containers are made from #2 HDPE in needs to be noted that not all HDPE containers are food safe.
PVC’s are on our list of no no’s and should be avoided, they contain “gender-bending” chemicals, which is a fancy way of saying that they disrupt endocrine (glands in the body that produce hormones). This is due to the chemical composition mimicking hormones, which leads to overproduction/interference or altogether block these signals. In humans, this is linked to altering human cells, cancer, deformations, infertility, chronic disease, allergies, and asthma. These risks are extremely high for babies and children as #3 PVC’s are commonly used in those colorful padded floor mats kits play on, as well as shower curtains.
This is another low-hazard plastic commonly used to line cartons, paper cups, bread bags etc…
These would be your yogurt, any takeout foods, and pill bottles. PP has a higher heat tolerance, which is amazing because it is unlikely to leach...I said unlikely, not impossible.
Do you remember the little Styrofoam food trays back in elementary? Well that’s polystyrene and P.S. It’s a real pain. Unfortunately, Styrofoam damages the nervous system and temperature has everything to do with how much is leached into food and drinks. The hotter the temperature, the more styrene gets in to your system. So maybe that pipen hot coffee in the styrofoam cup isn't such a great idea.
Lastly, #7 is used to describe any plastics that do not fit into the above depictions (so you basically don't know what kind of toxins to expect). Although a mystery concoction of toxic chemicals, these plastics often carry the now famous BPA and the latest, new and improved: BPS (because now everyone wants BPA free plastic, BPS is substituted yet is just as toxic as BPA). Both of which are “gender-bending” like our enemy PVC which cause all kinds of horrific side effects and a seemingly endless list of health problems. 93% of Americans age 6 and older are positive for BPA[iv].
Yum Yum Plastic food
Now that you are made aware of the different types of plastic let's talk about food. The most terrifying part is that plastic will never degrade, instead, it breaks off into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastic, which leeches these toxic chemicals we discussed above. It gets worse, marine life such as fish mistake these tiny bits of plastic pellets as food and eats them. Well, Humans eat fish, or we eat animals that eat fish, the plastic works its way up the food chain and humans are now actually ingesting plastic.
Another concern is drinking water, although 71% of the earth is covered by water only 2.5% is drinkable with only 1% easily accessible[v]. In other words, water is a precious resource that we already have a limited amount of. Plastic, on the other hand, pollutes our drinking water by leaching toxic chemicals and breaking down into microplastic. This is done in a variety of ways such as buried landfills leaching into groundwater, plastic litter that eventually flows into clean water contaminating rivers, lakes, and finally the ocean. So now we are eating, drinking, and bathing in plastic.
Don't freak out and empty all your plastic Tupperware into the trash, this isn't meant to scaremonger you, quite the opposite this is to inform you. Plastic in small doses is completely harmless, and medical plastic is one of the best inventions that has saved countless lives since its discovery. These problems are due to the overuse and overexposure of plastic. I hope this gets you pondering and start observing how many items in your life are plastic and what kind of plastic is it? I leave you with this final statement by Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, “There is no such thing as ‘away’ when we throw anything away it must go somewhere”[vi].