Plastic contaminates our bodies and our environment aka life in plastic is not fantastic
No matter how convenient plastic is, it is bad for the environment and global health. Studies have found that certain substances in plastics can migrate into food, beverages or other products inside plastic packaging + into soil and water. This includes chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), phthalates, monomers, polymers, plasticizers, heat stabilizers etc. More than 4,000 chemicals are associated with plastic packaging. The microplastics and chemicals bioaccumulate.
Sadly, plastic is inexpensive to make which makes it hard to introduce alternatives. Billion tons of plastics have been burnt, dumped in landfills or ended up in the environment. Only about 9% has been recycled since 1950s. When burnt, toxic chemicals enter the air. Plastics dumped into the land leak out toxins into soil and pollute.
Plastics are accumulating in world’s soils, water and our bodies at an alarming rate and impact soil health, biodiversity and food security.
Plastics pose both physical (entanglement, gastrointestinal blockage etc.) and chemical threats (bioaccumulation of the chemical substances in wildlife and marine ecosystems). Plastic trash and particles do not accumulate only in areas such as Pacific Garbage Patch but also in deep sees, coral reefs, rivers etc. Accumulations are increasing in aquatic habitats consistently with plastic production.
Plastics resist degradation. Chemicals have been shown to accumulated through food chain. Aquatic animals are most at the exposure. Organisms often ingest these plastic chemicals and become carriers. Humas ingest these organisms through food.
Some of these toxins are related to health problems such as metabolic disorders (including obesity), diabetes, liver dysfunction, neurological development in children, early puberty, reduced fertility etc. and are known as endocrine disruptors that negatively impact our hormonal system.
Plastics have capacity to collect in human tissues and organs. Plastic particles have been found in human placenta, in breast milk, heart, lungs, colon etc. The exposure is real.
Evidence shows that we ingest plastic particles on daily basis. Microplastics release toxic compounds that can enter the bloodstream and can be transported to organs + tissues and accumulate. Microplastics alone might not trigger a disease but cannot be excluded that they might contribute to it. The fact that microplastics were found in human placenta in 2021 shed a new light on the level of human exposure to plastics in general with possible consequences on pregnancy outcome.
BPA can be ingested or absorbed thru skin (our largest organ). BPA has been linked to breast cancer.
What can we do?
We can reduce use of plastic and lower our exposure on individual level. Switch to glass, stainless steel, paper or unpackaged. Carry reusable shopping bags, avoid plastic cutlery by keeping a reusable one in your car or purse. Good grade silicone bags or mason jars are great alternatives to take-out containers. Bring your own cup for coffee or make your own at home. Heat can increase the exposure tremendously. Never heat plastics in microwave or leave plastic water bottle in the sun. 90% of plastic water bottles has microplastics, why not to invest in a reusable water bottle? Most food cans are lined with plastic inside. Cook from scratch from fresh food when you can. Avoid touching store printed receipts (as they are often coated with BPA) and don’t give them to your children to play with.
The way how products are packaged matters as much as the products’ ingredients.
I am not writing this to scare you off and create an anxiety when you come in contact with plastic. The purpose of this is to raise awareness and motivate you to make safer choices WHEN POSSIBLE.
I have moved away from perfectionistic tendencies. I buy a couple of cans of beans in case I don’t have freshly cooked beans on hand. I still buy frozen berries or veggies in plastic bags but I am intending to invest in a bigger Stasher silicone bags and stock up with fresh berries from farmers market. You see - I am getting there slowly and I feel good about it. I still buy a yoghurt but instead of buying multiple small cups, I buy a big one and reuse the container in the garden. I am sooo bad at giving up tea bags. I buy from brands who I am sure has no microplastics such as Traditional Medicinals. I buy a block of cheese (store it in a beeswax wrap in the fridge) and grate myself to lower packaging footprint and avoid unnecessary additives…The food is really hard. I was able to switch our personal care and everyday household cleaning products to plastic free.
Next time I see you, I would love to hear where are you at on your journey.
Vote with your dollar and support businesses that are doing better. Together, we can send a message to the plastic industry.
Resources: UN, EPA, The Lancet - Sciencedirect, Environment International, National Library Of Medicine, picture: earth.com