Plastics are all around us. They are so ingrained in our way of living that it’s almost impossible to find something that doesn’t have some part made from fossil fuels. Every year, nearly 2000 new chemicals are created. It is difficult for regulations to keep up with this amount of production and many chemicals are not fully tested on potential health effects over long cross-generational periods. Unfortunately, it is often after a series of incidents that certain chemicals are banned. Almost everything we use today is made of plastic; our water bottles, food packaging, cookware, storage containers, and more. Many of us are aware of the environmental concern with the over-production and usage of plastics – overflowing landfills, plastics in the ocean, harm to wildlife, etc. But did you know that they also pose a direct danger to our own health? Plastics contain a number of confirmed and possibly harmful chemicals. Of concern, there a few primary chemicals which are known as endocrine disruptors. This means that they interrupt the normal hormone signalling that occurs in your body. This can lead to a myriad of series conditions and possibly disease.
The primary chemical that you may have heard of it is bisphenol-A or BPA. If you look at new plastic products, you will often find that the label defines BPA free. This is because, after a long period of commercial use, evidence has shown that it is toxic, even at low levels. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that has estrogenic activity. This means that it mimics or antagonise the hormone oestrogen. This alters the natural hormone balance within the body leading to weight gain, hormonal imbalance, cellular dysfunction, impotence and even cancer1. Unfortunately, it is not just BPA, but studies have shown that most plastic products have endocrine disruption properties2. So even that BPA free plastic may not be a safe option.
Another common chemical is phthalates. These are found in plastics, cosmetics, cleaners and packaging, among others. Similar to BPA, it has recently been discovered to have many potential health effects and is slowly becoming prohibited across the globe. It has been linked to conditions such as asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioural issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues3-6.
Bottom line – the surmounting level of evidence is pointing to the fact that plastics are likely NOT SAFE, especially in proximity to food and drink where it can easily enter our body. So what can you do?
Tips to Avoid Toxic Plastics
- Switch to stainless steel or glass. There are a number of alternatives for cookware, water bottles, storage, and more. Klean Kanteen makes stainless steel water bottles and Weck makes glass storage jars.
- Use plastic free cookware. Try to use cookware made from stainless steel, ceramic or other natural alternatives.
- Switch to reusable grocery bags and storage containers. This will not only protect you from plastics but also help reduce the environmental footprint
- Stop buying processed foods in plastics or cans. The chemicals can leach into products that have been stored in plastics or in cans that have been lined with plastics.
- Buy wooden or metal toys for children. Children are even more susceptible to chemical toxins, try to buy toys made from natural raw materials.
- Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment. 2011. National Academy Press, Washington. Available at – https://www.nap.edu/read/6029/chapter/1#ii
- Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan CV, Klein DJ, Bittner GD. Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(7):989-996