My family is on the journey to a plastic-free household. This is a huge change in our disposable modern culture! We have a blended family of six, so nothing is ever cheap for us. And there is always laundry and cleaning to do. I am now ashamed to admit that we (used to) be one of those families that bought disposable plates and cutlery and cups too often of the time. Life tends to be busy and we often go for what is convenient. But this habit is devastating for our world!
Single-use and disposable plastics are some of the worst inventions of man! Because of the type of plastic they are, they are difficult to recycle. This means they get thrown away, finding their way to landfills and, unfortunately into riverbeds and streams, and finally to the ocean. We have also known for several years that plastics contain ingredients that are harmful to our health. Most plastics are made with BPA (bisphenol-A), a compound that makes them stronger and more resilient. It is used in food containers, personal care products, CDs/DVDs, feminine hygiene products, household electronics, receipt paper, and even dental fillings and eyeglass lenses. There has been much public debate over BPA and its harmful effects, so you’ve probably heard of this stuff.
The problem with BPA is that it leeches out of the plastic into the substance contained in it. BPA mimics the structure and function of estrogen in the body, so it can influence a variety of body processes, such as growth, cell repair, energy levels, and reproduction (Petre, 2018). It may increase chances of infertility by lowering egg production in females and slowing sperm motility in males; It may increase risks of prostate and breast cancers by how it affects the cell structure of those tissues. It is linked to increased incidence of heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, and Diabetes Type 2, including insulin resistance, and obesity. Lastly, children raised on BPA have had higher incidences of hyperactivity, nervousness, and depression, and have become more emotionally reactive and aggressive (Petre, 2018). These are all changes over time that remind me of the frog in boiling water metaphor. There have been many studies on BPA and, over the last year, the FDA has said that BPA is safe. They say the levels of BPA found in people and in the test subjects of these studies are not toxic and do not cause obesity and hormonal changes or increase rick of cancer (Center for Accountability in Science, 2018). Perhaps these levels are normal now, but 50 years ago, before plastic was in practically everything we have, we probably would have been horrified by these same results. And, call me a conspiracy theorist if you really want, but I have a hard time calling it coincidence that, after years of research leading to proving the toxicity of BPA, now that the war on plastic is gaining some steam, it’s suddenly “safe” after… what? One study? That smells stink of corporate payoff to me!
I also find it interesting that several alternatives to BPA have been studied and developed and…. then gone nowhere! Such as the material developed by a graduate student from the University of Delaware, Kaleigh Reno. This material, called Lignin, is part of the secondary cell walls of plants and some algae and is part of what makes wood strong (Fischer, 2014). It is a byproduct of the process of making paper and can be made into a BPA alternative called bisguaiacol F (BGF). This research, and a couple other similar type compounds, were being developed around 2014-2016 but have disappeared from the media since. Sounds like more research is needed!
Bottom Line: the jury is still out on the chemical safety of plastics in our daily environment. My house and I are choosing to purge them from our lives. Not only is the use of disposable plastic wasteful, it can be harmful to us and is burying our world in trash that does not break down fully. The way plastic breaks down, into micropieces, is even worse than big floating trash because of the way animals ingest it. So here are some practical steps to avoid the poison of plastic in the home:
Avoid packaged foods: plastic or canned! Canned foods have a lining of BPA on the interior of the can to seal the food away from the metal and keep bacteria from entering the contents.
Drink from a glass or metal water bottle. Some of the metal ones are insulated and can maintain your beverage’s temperature, while the glass ones are often more aesthetic. Reusable is best, avoiding reusable plastic is even better!
Avoid microwaving food in plastic containers. Instead try a glass or ceramic dish or plate. When plastic substances are heated, they leech out more BPA.
Switch to a beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap for leftovers. It’s cute and reusable! There are several companies on the market now, so they are more affordable than they used to be.
Most of the time, the rule of thumb for avoiding plastic use is to plan ahead! If I bring my reusable bag, bottle, straw, and cutlery set when I am out and likely to need them, I will be prepared. Yes, it means that I’m carrying more crap with me, but since I carry a purse, I just throw it in there. It is not as convenient, but my planet matters more to me than convenience. Even just paying attention to our plastic consumption and trying to find small ways here or there (such as avoiding fast food) to reduce them is a change for the better. We can all take one step today. Just one.
Center for Accountability in Science. (2018). “FDA says bpa is safe. What does that mean for you?” Center for Accountability in Science. March 1, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.accountablescience.com/fda-says-bpa-is-safe-so-what-does-that-mean-for-you/
Fischer, K. (2014). “Natural, renewable alternative to BPA in the works.” Healthline.com Retrieved on 8 February 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cancer-renewable-bpa-alternative-found-031614#1
Petre, A. (2018). “What is BPA and why is it bad for you?” Healthline.com Retrieved on 6 February 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-bpa#what-it-is