What You Should Know About Plastic and Your Health
There has been an increasing awareness of how consumed our world has become with plastic. National Geographic has put out articles and documentaries depicting the gravity of what plastic is doing to our planet. Do you remember the plastic straw epidemic that started to gain traction summer of last year? Many celebrities jumped on the bandwagon to encourage everyone to stop using plastic straws (over 500 million straws are used every day). There was even a #stopsucking campaign with video. I’ll save you all of the stats on plastics and the planet, but you can read more on here and just check out the photo below from my birth county, Manila, Philippines:
I don’t need to drown you in information about how bad plastic is for the earth, because you’ve probably seen or read about it. And I really can’t do anything about convincing you to save our planet. What I DO want to talk about is what plastic is doing to your HEALTH, because that may hit closer to home for some.
Plastic and your health
Recently I was unloading the dishwasher and noticed the top rack was filled with plastic. I noticed our recycling bin was full of plastic bottles and single-use plastic containers. I wanted to know more about what detrimental effects that plastic has on our own health. Naturally, I jumped down the rabbit-hole known as google, scouring articles about different chemicals that make up plastic and what type of medical issues they can cause.
Bottom line: I did all the researching on reputable sources to bring you the hard facts of what you should know.
Let’s start with the basics- The numbers.
Here’s what you need to know about the numbers, which are plastic resin identification numbers, you find on the bottom of every plastic container. Below the number is the type of chemical in the chart, and below that are examples of what container you might find with this number.
#1- usually clear plastic: your disposable water bottles and soda bottles. Clear plastics tend to leach chemicals more easily than opaque plastic.
#2- usually opaque: milk jugs, cleaning agents
#3- plastic wrap, PVC
#4 – plastic shopping bags
#5- MOST food storage containers like Rubbermaid/Tupperware, reusable kiddie plates/bowls/cups, most kid toys
#7- Everything else, like a big bag of mixed chemicals. Like the hotdog of plastics. Ew.
What do these chemicals mean for our health?
Glad you asked. BPA has gotten a bad rap…BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical that is linked to obesity, cancers, disruptions in fetal growth and development, and endocrine and reproductive dysfunction/development, among others. Women who are pregnant (hello…this is mainly why I read so much about this), are vulnerable to the effects of this because of the tiny human they are baking in their bellies. Here’s a scary fact: “One study observed that women with frequent miscarriages had about three times as much BPA in their blood as women with successful pregnancies”. It can effect a growing fetus’ birth weight, reproductive development and cognitive development.
From this article published by Yale University,
“There is also now abundant research that links BPA and phthalate exposure to such human health concerns as deformities of the male and female genitals; premature puberty in females; decreased sperm quality; and increases in breast and prostate cancers, infertility, miscarriages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, allergies and neurological problems, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Because of these findings, a lot of companies have “changed” chemical ingredients and slapped a “No BPA” or “BPA free” sticker on their products. However, these chemicals (often BPS and BPF) still have properties as detrimental as BPA. *gasp. NAMELY, plastics with codes 3&7.
AH! How can I prevent this from entering my body?
Another great question. . Some of these plastics, such as #1, #2, #4, and #5 are relatively safe…unless you heat them up. Heating causes “LEACHING” or leaking of chemicals from the plastics. And if this plastic container has food in it, it could leach into your food. I’ve come up with easy rules of thumb for you:
RULE #1: DO NOT HEAT UP FOOD IN PLASTIC CONTAINERS.
Most plastics are NOT safe to heat up food. It may say microwave safe on the bottom (most food containers, hard plastics like #5)…but this usually means the plastic will not warp or alter, not that chemicals won’t leach from it. If you want to go the conservative route, always warm up food in a glass or ceramic dish/bowl/cup (or a safe metal if it’s stovetop/oven). Also, do not put plastic wrap on the food that you are heating up. That is plastic #3 that contain phthalates that can interfere with hormone development. In addition, you don’t want to put hot food directly into plastic containers or use plastic cooking utensils with steaming hot food. Again, it’s about the contact and leaching.
RULE #2: DO NOT LEAVE BOTTLES OR PLASTIC FOOD CONTAINERS IN A CAR
If the car heats up in the sun, even a little bit, the chemicals in the plastic bottle can leach into your water, or whatever beverage is inside.
RULE #3: AVOID PLASTICS #3, #6,#7
We’ve already discussed #3, and #7 is a mixed bag of chemicals. #6 is styrofoam like the to-go containers that food comes in. Most cities have banned the use of styrofoam to-go containers from stores and restaurants. You can always check what kind of container they use before they plop your leftovers in it.
What changes can I make right now?
Don’t freak out. You don’t need to throw out all your Tupperware and precious reusable water bottles…BUT you can repurpose them other places in the house. You can also make the switch gradually, instead of replacing all at once (that can get mighty pricey). I’ll be honest, because I’m pregnant and having 2 little ones, I definitely went cold turkey after reading all of this. I didn’t go that crazy on Amazon, but I did go through my kitchen to read each plastic container for their number and check their quality. We already had a few stainless steel bottles and glass containers, so I put those at the front, bought a few extra and told my husband about the transition we were making.
*Disclaimer: Therapeutic Miles is a participant of Amazon Associates, meaning I can make a small commission from any purchases without any additional expense to you!
- Stop buying bottled water. Switch from drinking from plastic to stainless steel or glass water bottles. Better for you, better for the planet.
- Switch to glass food containers or others. Yes they’re a bit pricier, but worth it if you reheat food a lot or save leftovers. The tempered glass ones are the bomb dot com.
*If you usually bring food to work in Tupperware and don’t want to bring your lunch in glass containers, there are stainless steel, vacuum-sealed food containers that you can heat at home and stay warm for 6+ hours. I got this one for Chase to take to school and works like a charm.
- Bring reusable grocery bags/totes to the store. This is more of a reason for sustainability than for your health, but most of us probably do this already. I also don’t use the thin produce bags since that is just extra plastic, and I’ll wash them all before I eat them anyway. Down here in DC you’re charged 5 cents per plastic bag, so the first purchase I made when I moved here was this purple bag that folds into a ball and stuffs nicely into my bag. Still going strong after 8 years!! A brand that I partner with sent me these other reusable bags, Bagpodz, as a gift, and I love the container that they come in! Super small and portable, clip directly onto the cart!
There are sooooo many other steps you can take to avoid consumption of food from plastic or even your exposure to non-food plastic containers. But I’ll stop there. Some people may think “Well these days everything can cause cancer, so why not live my life”. True…I’ve seen many people die from cancer both in my family and as a clinician…it’s a horrible way to go. So if I can do something to lessen my chances or my family’s risk of health conditions, I certainly will try!
WHAT ABOUT THE BABIES AND KIDS!???!!
Ah yes. There’s a whole other chapter,Most kid-related products, toys, containers are made of plastic, so it’s an all-consuming area. SOOOOO…
Plastics Part II: Baby and Kid-Safe Alternatives. I have a bunch of tips on how to reduce or avoid use of plastic, including some great product recommendations that we’ve implemented in our house!