Any plastic junkies in the house? Please raise your hand. Don’t be ashamed, my hand is raised too.
Well, at least I used to be a plastic junkie. Not fully realizing the negative effects of plastic, I took it for granted. For convenience, cost and sheer availability, I always defaulted to plastic options when making purchases. When was the last time you bought food and considered the packaging? How old are your plastic storage containers? And just because it’s BPA-free, is it still safe?
Things are changing, my friends.
Today’s Detox Your Life post covers plastics and why you don’t need ’em in your life.
Where is plastic hiding?
Go look around your kitchen. How much plastic do you see? I bet you see plastic spatulas to flip your hot eggs and pancakes, or plastic ladels to scoop out your hot soup. What about plastic storage containers? Plastic water bottles? Or even packaging, including those single-served foods sealed in their own plastic pouches.
Plastics are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And we’ve only just looked in our kitchen. I think it’s safe to say they’ve basically taken over our lives… But is it really a problem? Let’s find out.
Why is plastic a big deal?
There are so many different kinds of plastics out there. Your plastic baggies aren’t the same as your food storage containers. There are different “resin codes” imprinted on the most plastics to help you understand what each plastic is made of. At the end of the day, plastic is really just a mish-mash of different chemicals that gives the product different properties.
Does it mean that some plastics are better than others? Well, sort of. While some are better than others, I wouldn’t necessarily say that any are “good” for you. It’s all relative, and the more you know about safe use of plastics, the better.
Here is a list of the resin codes that you can find on your plastic products, what they mean, and why they may or may not be your friend:
1. Polyethylene terephthalate. Also known as PETE or PET
This is your average plastic water or soda bottle. Some studies show that these substances may include endocrine disruptors under conditions of common use, and more specifically long-term storage or elevated temperature. Reusing PET containers can be especially dangerous as the plastic breaks down over time, leaching into the contents.
If you’re using old Coke bottles as reusable water bottles – please stop now.
2. High-density polyethylene, or HDPE
Found in milk containers, shampoo bottles, and other health and beauty products, toys, etc.
This is generally considered a safer plastic, because it often it doesn’t contain BPA*. However, we can’t forget that in a recent study, over 95% of plastic products tested showed positive for estrogenic activity.
3. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC
This type of plastic makes up plumbing pipes, some shower curtains, cling-wraps and more.
Vinyl chloride, the main part of PVC, is a known carcinogen.
Type 3 plastics typically use large amounts of toxic additives to make it a stable plastic; these toxic additives are then leached during use. This may result in exposure to toxic metals like lead, cadmium and phthalates.
In addition to health risks directly from the plastic itself, production of this plastic requires high-polluting chlorine and many other toxic chemicals affecting the environment and our health.
4. Low-density polyethylene, or LDPE
A durable, but flexible plastic, it makes up things like grocery bags, plastic baggies, and is often an ingredient in cling-wrap, which can also have PVC (type 3).
Similarly to HDPE, LDPE does not typically include BPA, which means it is less risky. Again, we cannot ignore the recent research identifying the estrogenic activity of most plastics.
It is not easily recycled leading to environmental waste considerations.
5. Polypropylene, or PP
The plastic found in yogurt tubs, ketchup bottles, and more.
Scientists have determined that polypropylene can affect human enzymes and brain receptors due to leaching of chemical compounds from the PP.
Originally believed to be a relatively safe plastic now requires more research to better understand the health implications.
6. Polystyrene, or PS (Styrofoam)
This is found in disposable plates, cups, egg cartons, carry-out containers and more. Think about all of the other places where you see styrofoam…
It contains both styrene and benzene. These two compounds are linked to human health issues:
Styrene is considered toxic to our nervous system, carcinogenic, disruptive to our menstrual cycles, and more.
Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to Leukemia, and affects the blood in other ways through anemia or blood disorders, and can even be linked to low birth weight and bone marrow damage.
This one is NOT friendly.
7. Miscellaneous types of plastic
Baby bottles, plastic utensils, the inside of metal cans, etc.
This “miscellaneous” group of plastic can be made of a number of different chemicals, so it’s hard to know the health risks and safety of using these plastics. Since it cannot be classified, chances are there are some really weird and unhealthy chemicals in here. This plastic is most likely to include Bisphenol A (BPA) so avoid it as much as you can.
As a general rule, stay away from plastic type 7 – if you don’t know what it’s made of, how can you trust that it’s safe for you?
* Just because it doesn’t include BPA doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous, as you will see below.
BPA? What’s the big deal?
It’s generally understood that Bisphenol A (BPA) is bad. Over the last decade, many companies have started producing plastics without BPA because of the dangers and health concerns. What are some of these health concerns?
- Developmental issues with our egg/sperm;
- It’s estrogenic and acts as an endocrine disruptor;
- Heart disease.
As an endocrine disruptor, BPA affects our endocrine system responsible for our body’s hormone regulation. By affecting our endocrine system, BPA can also cause these serious heath risks:
- Damage to your brain structure;
- Impaired learning, hyperactivity;
- Impaired immune system function;
- Stimulate prostate cancer cells;
- Early puberty, sexual development;
- Disrupted reproductive cycles, infertility.
While it’s particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children, it also affects the population at large. It’s definitely for the best that we all avoid BPA as much as possible.
Not-so-fun fact: did you know some receipt paper is lined with BPA?
Okay okay, so what if you buy BPA-free plastic?
BPA-free doesn’t mean endocrine-disruptor-free. Remember, BPA is just ONE of a number of chemical additives in the plastic. Turns out that some alternatives being used instead of BPA are just as toxic, if not MORE toxic than its hazardous counterpart.
BPS (bisphenol-S) is a compound showing up in plastics. Although it isn’t as largely researched as BPA, it might be just as dangerous to our health. There is some research showing that BPS is just as potent as BPA in terms of its endocrine-disrupting activities. There is also some evidence showing that it accumulates and stays in our body longer than BPA.
In a 2011 study, 455 commercially available plastics were tested for their estrogenic activity (ability to mimic the estrogen hormone). Their results showed that most plastics released chemicals having estrogenic acitvity – even those that were BPA-free! As we mentioned above, while plastic types 2 and 4 might seem relatively safe, chances are they still release chemicals with some estrogenic activity.
One of these chemicals, that we briefly mentioned before, is pthalates. Found in plastics like PVC, they are also endocrine disruptors. Phtalates aren’t only found in plastic, but also health and beauty products and can have a huge affect on human health, largely targeting reproductive issues by disrupting hormones.
Bottom line: even if it’s BPA-free, it’s not always safe or healthy.
What about those environmental considerations?
Not convinced that plastics are junk yet? Let’s not forget the environmental issues that plastics pose. So many of these cheap plastics are used in disposable products, and only some of them can even be recycled! The amount of plastic in our local landfills is unbelievable, and buying more plastic is only contributing to the garbage. It’s tough to avoid it these days, but we should do our best to avoid plastic consumption as much as possible. Plus, often plastic substitutes like glass or stainless steel will last much longer, thus avoiding the landfill altogether!
Then comes the air-quality consideration as well as other environmental impacts. These plastics are made from petroleum (oil), and there are large-scale environmental issues associated with oil production. In addition, plastics have a number of added chemicals that can affect the quality of the air while in production.