Plastics. They are everywhere. We walk on them, sit on them, eat off of them, talk into them, drink out of them, and right now, I am typing on them. They are filled with chemicals we cannot pronounce, they can be dangerous, and they are scary. Raising a child in a plastic-filled world is even scarier. As I began my quest for the facts on plastics, I was completely overwhelmed with the information I discovered. Here is just a tip of the iceburg of facts I came across:
- A plastic milk jug takes about a million years to decompose
- Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, all of which is made from virgin material
- An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic is dumped in the world’s oceans every year
- Nearly every piece of plastic EVER made still exists today.
- Many chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties have negative environmental and human health effects, including direct toxicity, endocrine disruptiors, and carcinogens
- Its estimated that over 10’s of thousands of seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic debris (including domestic waste and disused fishing gear) and about 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate, although some scientists believe this figure to be much higher.
While the American Chemistry Company would like us to think that plastic is completely recyclable, the fact is, it isn’t. Most recycled plastic goes into making items like plastic lumber, textiles, and parking bumpers, all of which are unrecycleable. So its makes sense to hear that every 20 years, the amount of plastic we use doubles. When plastic is burned, it releases hazordous chemicals into the atmosphere, that cause severe health problems for those exposed. Have you ever burnt a plastic spoon on the stove? Not a pleasant smell. Little did you know, you were also ingesting hazardous chemicals. What exactly ar these dangerous chemicals you ask? Well here are just a few…
Bisephonal A or BPA – This chemical is a component of polycarbonate; that clear, hard plastic used in the manufacturing of baby bottles, reusable sports bottles, the lining of canned goods and dental fillings (to name a few). It has been linked to various cancers, early onset of puberty, Type II diabetes and neurobehavioral changes in offspring exposed in the womb. BPA is a hormone/endocrine disruptor. What many don’t know is that it actually mimics the hormone estrogen. It can interfere with the normal functioning of the hormone (or endocrine) system by duplicating, blocking or exaggerating hormonal responses. This can produce a wide range of adverse effects including reproductive, developmental and behavioral problems. It leaches into our food supply by ingesting foods and beverages contained in plastics bearing a #3 or #7. For more on BPA go here.
PVC- Commonly referred to as vinyl, is extremely hazardous. PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. Our bodies are contaminated with poisonous chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible life-long health threats. It has been linked to various cancers, reproductive issues, and weakened immune systems. Its found everywhere: shower curtains, carpets, childrens toys, teethers, car seats, computer keyboards, etc. One way to be sure if the packaging of a product is made from PVC is to look for the number “3” or for the letter “V” inside or underneath the universal recycling symbol. This means that the product is made of PVC. Soft flexible plastic products that are made with PVC often have a distinct odor. Children can be exposed to these chemicals, such as phthalates, by chewing on vinyl toys. Often times if I am unsure about an item, I just refuse it, rather than take the risk. For more on PVC go here.
Polystyrene (PS) – Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery, compact disc cases. Leaches styrene, which is also an endocrine disruptor mimicking the female hormone estrogen, and thus has the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems; long-term exposure by workers has shown brain and nervous system effects; adverse effects on red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies. It is found in plastics marked with a 6.
So now the biq question is “what can I do?” Well, here’s a few tips that I generally go by when it comes to plastic.
- Use Aluminum canteens instead of polycarbonate bottles for your drinking water. They can be found just about anywhere. Sigg and Kleen Kanteen are two I know offhand.
- Steer clear of plastic baby toys. If you must buy plastic, make sure that it is PVC and BPA-free. Check out The Soft Landing on WordPress, she has a lot of good info. You can always ask or research the company as well.
- Choose items packaged in glass if you have a choice. (The other day I made my peanut butter selection based on this)
- Use cloth bags to do all of your shopping. I generally have a few I use for the grocery store, one for the library, and a few for the mall. If you happen to forget your bag, most stores have them for 99 cents at the register.
- Avoid at all costs heating plastic in the microwave (this includes plastic wrap). This is when chemicals are found to leach the most.
- Avoid plastic cups, utensils, and plates for meals. There are many alternatives out there (bamboo, glass, etc)
- Limit your Ziploc bag use. WHile I must admit, I still use the freezer bags, I have stopped using sandwich bags. They make awesome sandwich wraps online, and Tupperware (although plastic) is a much better, reusable alternative.
While going completely plastic free is next to impossible, I feel that it is very possible to be conscious about the choices we make for ourselves and our children.