Fantastic Plastic; A Threat to Health and The Environment

Fantastic Plastic; A Threat to Health and The Environment

Contemporary life is ‘plasticized,’ conveying enormous benefits to our lives in hygiene, convenience, and color. Plastics are everywhere within the house, in food packaging, cooking utensils, children’s toys, construction materials, and household equipment. Plastics result from the petrochemical sector (non-sustainable and environmentally devastating) and are environmentally toxic throughout their lifecycle; beginning with their production which involves large-scale pollution, releasing potent compounds such as dioxins, phthalates, and toxic metals to our environment; and affecting human, animal, aquatic and plant life. Plastic is provided distinct qualities through treatment with a cocktail of other frightening chemicals, all of which can leach from the individual products and to the air (you know that plastic smell?), water, or something in close proximity to the plastic. And what do we do?

We wrap up our food in it! Most supermarket food is set on polystyrene trays, packed and smothered in cling film, exhibited in glistening punnets, or maintained in tins lined with plastics. We eat the food (and the leached plastic compounds) and toss the packaging to the bin. From here the plastics remain with us forever, being mostly un-biodegradable. Tiny fragments of plastics are amassing from the Pacific Ocean and wreaking havoc throughout the food chain. When the compounds are burnt, they then release a flow of unpronounceable and highly toxic chemicals into the environment (posing an enormous threat to the health of fire-fighters, and potentially proving fatal to occupants of burning buildings that inhale PVC fumes). Plastics are quite literally an issue that won’t go away.

They seem to be so useful and sterile but can seep harmful chemicals into the foods that they come into contact with, possibly exacerbated by heat (think oven-safe and microwaveable packaging). Recent research across America (including the University of Rochester and the National Centre for Environmental Health) have suggested that phthalates (chemicals found in plastics like Clingfilm, vinyl, and plastic bags) can cross the placenta, damaging the sexual maturation of male children (this can also be recognized in different mammals) leading to physical and potentially behavioral issues. A group of Swedish researchers has linked the household use of plastics to an increase in asthma, eczema, and other allergies, and there’s concern that the immature bodies of children and infants are at higher risk of toxic build-up and damage of plastic compounds, found in food packaging, toys, and drinking bottles. (Several kinds of plastics are phased out of use for toys of young kids because of their health-risk). Additional studies have indicated a connection between the use of plastics about food and the growth of certain cancers like breast cancer, immune problems, and even infertility.

So what can you do to reduce the amount of plastic in your life?

1) Ditch plastic bags, and always carry fabric bags and baskets; for fairly traded organic cotton bags. Keep bags in your vehicle, and fold cotton totes up little in your handbag.

2) Chuck out the cling film and use unbleached brown paper and grease-proof paper or recycled aluminum foil to pack sandwiches and store foods in the refrigerator. Buy unbleached paper bags, the paper bags can be reused several times and eventually composted or recycled with your papers.

3) Have your veggies delivered to you to cut back on supermarket packaging; largely use unbleached paper bags, cardboard punnets, and boxes, cutting out a huge quantity of waste and packaging. Ask your supermarket to present unbleached paper bags, or take your own; my local stores are very used to my strange behavior by now! Consider using local markets, fruit and veg shops, or your farmers market and take your own baskets and bags; I get sellers to trick stuff straight in my bag if they don’t have paper bags. A further bonus is that less material winds up in your bin, and you do not spend one hour unpacking everything.

4) Drink tap water rather than mineral water, and send children to school with a beverage in a metallic sports container as opposed to plastic bottles. If you can not bear the tap water, then purchase the bigger 5-liter mineral water bottles, or purchase a water filter.

5) Go shabby Chic; spring-clean all the plastic stuff from the kitchen and put money into wooden spoons and chopping boards (both of which draw germs to the wood and kill it), have some fun picking ceramic mixing bowls and other kitchen stuff. Look on eBay for classic stoneware jelly molds, and other conventional kitchen things. Do not forget, Christmas is coming, which means you may request some new things as gifts.

6) Sometimes, having children seems to involve surrounding yourself with mountains of multicolored vinyl, but with some careful purchasing, you can choose safer products for your loved ones and friends, especially for miniature vulnerable new babies. Watch out for traditional rag dolls, and knitted woolen teddies. Additionally, you might wish to prevent compound’fleece’ blankets and go for natural fibers.

7) Choose natural fibers generally. ‘Fleece’ materials could be extremely economical but are made from plastic derivatives (some are made from recycled plastic bottles). Artificial garments are an environmental nightmare because not only do they release harmful chemicals during their processing, but they’re almost indestructible, don’t biodegrade, and burn to release toxic chemicals back into the environment. In actuality, clothes are another area that you might wish to believe about. It’s worth considering that college clothes are believed to be some of the most chemically poisonous items of clothing that you may purchase. I know it’s pricey but go for actual cotton, wool, linen, and other natural fibers where possible.

Cutting down the amount of plastic in your life can enable you to eat more healthily (plenty of fruit and veg), give you a terrific excuse to get a clear-out and a shopping spree, and allow you to work toward a more sustainable, and more healthful lifestyle. There’s been so much concern recently about the negative effect of ‘plastic living’ on our health, there are loads of choices when searching for alternatives.

Until next time, happy shopping!

Environment Health