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Plastics surround us each day.
We often hear about plastics and see pictures of their environmental impact, but they may also be negatively impacting our health.
By making a few simple habit changes, you can drastically reduce your plastic usage.
Ever since the first synthetic plastic (derived from fossil fuels) was invented in 1907, plastics have become ubiquitous.
Take a moment to consider your own plastic usage. Often by no fault of your own, you’re surrounded by it on a daily basis in the following forms:
- Bottles (both reusable and disposable)
- Coffee cups (styrofoam is plastic, too!)
- Coffee pods for Nespresso, Keurig, and other machines
- Disposable plates, spoons, knives, and forks
- Grocery bags
- Ziploc bags
- Takeout containers
- Trash bags
- Food packaging (glance in your refrigerator…almost everything is packaged in plastic)
According to National Geographic, “Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute around the world. In 2015, Americans purchased about 346 bottles per person—111 billion plastic beverage bottles in all.”
Since they’ve been making our lives more convenient since 1907, we rarely ponder the environmental and biological harms of plastics. But we must!
The Environmental Harms of Plastics
First of all, consider this startling fact: 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. The majority of the plastic we “recycle” ends up in oceans, landfills, and the natural environment.
This physical litter doesn’t just look terrible…
…it can harm living organisms, especially marine life.
Further, the chemicals used to create plastics disrupt the composition of our soil, air, water, and bodies.
The Biological Harms of Plastics
Did you know there are seven types of plastic? Most plastic products are labeled with a numbered recycling code:
We generally reference these numbers solely for recycling purposes, but we should also reference them to identify health risks.
The chemicals leached from plastics have been linked to hormonal disruption, respiratory and skin irritation, menstrual problems and miscarriage, asthma, allergies, ADHD, and even cancer. These are the seven plastics and their potential chemical risks:
- #1: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE or polyester)
- #2: High density polyethylene (HDPE)
- Currently regarded as safe
- #3: Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC)
- #4: Low density polyethylene (LDPE)
- Currently regarded as safe, but may leach nonylphenol
- #5: Polypropylene (PP)
- Currently regarded as safe
- #6: Polystyrene (PS)
- Can leach styrene
- #7: Other (O)–all other plastics
- This category does not identify one particular plastic resin, so it can include layered plastics or mixtures of plastic. It includes the new bioplastics.
- From lifewithoutplastic.com: “Polycarbonate (PC) is an extremely common plastic in this category and is often associated with this category (sometimes a product will have the number 7 on it with the letters “PC” underneath)…But keep in mind that polycarbonate is not the only plastic in this category and if a product has a number 7 on it without the letters PC under it, the product could be made of polycarbonate or it could be any other plastic (and there are thousands!). The only way to know for sure is to ask the manufacturer or have the plastic tested.”
- Polycarbonate (PC) leaches bisphenol A (BPA)
Mitigate the Environmental and Biological Harms of Plastic
Is it possible to avoid contact with all plastics? Probably not. Is it possible to reduce our use of plastics? Absolutely.
Here are some (simple!) ways to cut back your use of and exposure to plastics:
- Purchase glass containers to store leftovers. There are hundreds of options to choose from, and they last forever!
- Buy a glass bento box to take food (like lunch) on the go. I recently purchased this one and love it. It’s a tad on the expensive side, but in the long run it’s cheaper than buying boxes and boxes of Ziploc baggies! Also, it’s extremely durable.
- Invest in a high-quality stainless steel mug that can be used for both hot and cold drinks. I bought a Yeti, which I use for hot coffee in the mornings and cold water throughout the day. I carry it with me at all times, so I rarely drink from disposable coffee cups or water bottles. Many coffee chains–like Starbucks–even give you a discount if you bring your own mug!
- Instead of carrying your groceries in plastic bags, invest in reusable canvas bags. (Or, if you forget your canvas bags at home as I sometimes do, request paper instead of plastic at checkout!) Again, there are hundreds of options.
- Purchase some type of water purification system to be sure you’re not ingesting fibers from plastics in your drinking water. I used to own this Aquagear water pitcher, but I just invested in a Berkey to avoid storing my purified water in the plastic Aquagear pitcher.
- Avoid plastics #1, 3, 6, and 7 at all costs, especially when they’re in contact with something you’ll eat or drink. As you can see above, these are the numbers that are most likely to leach dangerous chemicals. (For more information, listen to this podcast in which the author of the book Estrogeneration details how our exposure to plastics can cause weight gain, depression, infertility, and many other problems.)
- Whenever possible, buy products that are packaged in glass. When you’re finished with the product, you can keep the glass jars/bottles to store leftovers!
- Use glass and metal dishes instead of plastic plates, forks, knives, and spoons.
- Drink out of stainless steel straws. I love using straws, so I wasn’t about to give them up! Now, I use these.
- Buy trash bags made from recycled materials. These are just one option.
- Cook and serve food with wooden spoons. Full sets are very cheap!
- Use cloth or eco-friendly diapers. I don’t have a baby yet, but I am intrigued by eco-friendly diapers and the cloth diapering movement, especially since traditional diapers may contain harmful chemicals.
- Most importantly: Be intentional. Instead of just taking the convenient plastic path of least resistance, make purposeful life changes that will positively impact the environment, your own health, and the health of those around you.
- A quick personal note on intentionality… While typing this post, I did a lot of research and reflected more deeply on my current use of plastic. I do all of the bullet-pointed suggestions listed above, but I also make coffee using one-use Nespresso pods each morning. Apparently, Nespresso offers a free pod recycling program, so I may begin to do that. However, now I realize that the plastic pods may be leaching chemicals into my coffee since they’re heated to such a high temperature. Instead of buying disposable plastic pods in the future, I may invest in a reusable, refillable pod like this. Writing this post reminded me that I can always do more to reduce waste and risks to my health!
Bottom line: For several reasons, plastics are not innocent! However, with a few lifestyle changes, you can reduce your use of plastic and also its harmful environmental and biological effects. So…what are you waiting for?!
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