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Plastic Poison: Plastic Food Package Affects Your Health

 

Plastic is poison. Let's just cut to the chase: plastic is toxic to the body and to the planet. And as a global population, we have become dependent on this supposedly disposable (or at least recyclable) fabrication of the fossil fuel giants.

Leaving the health problems out of it for a moment (though you can check out those below with my fancy infographic), let's start with the planet - because it's very possible that all those plastic containers you're throwing into various recycling bins aren't being recycled at all. Or when we think we're buying products made from consumer waste, that's also not completely accurate according this NPR article from last week.

And are we even really doing our part? That same article stated this:

Overall, Americans recycle at the lamentable rate of 34.5 percent and recycle plastic packaging at the even measlier rate of 14 percent. So the majority of that food packaging is ending up in landfills, or on the street as litter, where it may eventually get swept into the ocean. There, our wrappers and cans and cups become a much bigger problem — a direct threat to marine life that may ingest it and die.

Less than 100 years ago, in the 1930s, plastic moved into the big leagues when chemical engineers learned how to make plastic from petroleum (polystyrene, acrylic polymers and polyvinyl chloride were all made in this way).

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Most of us under the age of 40 were taught the tune in schools to reduce, re-use and recycle. But I think most of us have forgotten the order - reduce comes first - and perhaps we were never taught what really came ahead of the whole shebang: remove!

Here's more from my book UnDiet

Whether we recycle it or not, once a piece of plastic is created, it is with us forever. Every piece of plastic ever created on this planet since plastic started being created still remains in one form or another. According to Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2004 report, “an estimated four to five trillion plastic bags—including large trash bags, thick shopping bags, and thin grocery bags—were produced globally in 2002.

Roughly 80 percent of those bags were used in North America and Western Europe. Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape. About a thousand miles west of San Francisco is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also called the Pacific Trash Vortex), a heaping floating mass of plastic debris twice the size of Texas.

Pacific Trash Vortex

Or how about this image from the Citarum River in the town of Java in Indonesia, now rated as one of the 10 most toxic places in the world. People once made a livelihood from fishing for fish in this river. Now they troll around looking for any valuable trash that can be sold.

citarum-river-trash-and-pollution

More from my book UnDiet:

Plastic is not just in the obvious things like water bottles, bags, and hummus containers, but it also lines our tin cans, is in our shower curtains, and unless it’s packaged in unlined paper or glass with a glass lid, it has likely made contact with every packaged food item in our home. We are coming into contact with and producing too much plastic garbage.

Plastic has become an easy go-to solution, chosen most often for convenience, not necessity. When we really need to use plastic, we can; however, there are other options for our day-to-day lives that can help us to reduce our consumption and use of it. Think about this. What if you had to go a whole week, no wait, let’s just go a whole day, trying to consume or use things that have had no contact with plastic? I wish you luck—it’s tough, nearly impossible.

A little bit here and there is not the end of the world. A lot here and there will be though. In terms of our health, there are oodles of reasons we might want to avoid foods that come in, are heated in, or hang out for a long time in plastic.

We’re Not in the 1950s Anymore. The Tupperware Party Is Over.

Clearly this is a problem. So how are you enjoying the atrociously horrible K-Cup coffee pod coffee now? Between 2008 to 2013, sales have grown by 78.6 percent annually in the United States, according to the New York Times. And these little pods don't get recycled because they are made of three different types of plastic that need to be manually disassembled and sorted. Despite plastic bag taxes and other such measures, the plastic problem isn't shrinking (like the testicles of men who've been drinking too much plastic bottled water). It's growing.

Flip over your fave food-storage container. What do you see?

Plastic Toxicity Infographic

What few of us ever think about is what plastic does to our health.

Polycarbonate, something you may have never heard of, contains within its chemical cocktail something called bisphenol A or BPA, something you probably have heard of. One of its prime damaging effects is on the reproductive system. BPA mimics our own hormones, estrogen to be precise (when they come from synthetic sources like plastic, we call them xenoestrogens), and has been linked to all kinds of sex-hormone-related cancers such as prostate and breast cancers. Additionally, it can contribute to early onset of puberty and reproductive-organ defects, such as smaller-than-normal junk in men. Since the 1960’s, sperm counts have been cut in half and rates of testicular cancer have doubled in the last 20 years (1).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration admits that these bad guys can leach into our food from the containers they were stored in, but it hangs on to the claim that there are safe levels(2).  And I am pretty sure it’s safe to assume we all know someone who has dealt with ovarian, breast, prostate or testicular cancer.

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How To Do Without Plastic

  1. Leave the petroleum for your car. I am pretty sure everything can be stored in mason jars. My fridge is proof. Instead of mixing petroleum - which is where plastic comes from - with your food, look for alternatives such as glass, stoneware ceramic and stainless steel.
  2. Get up close and personal with plastic. All plastics are marked with an identification coding system. This is the number surrounded by arrows (see graphic above). This means that when you do need to use plastics, there are some options that are better than others. Stick with those numbered 1, 2, 4, and 5 - and just try to use them minimally.
  3. Get to know the number 7 (polycarbonate) really well. These are the plastics that tend to be very hard and clear, almost tricking us into thinking they’re solid, stable and glass-like. These guys often have BPA in them and include things like food-storage containers, water bottles and plastic tableware (think outdoor dining). You’ll also find this stuff in the lining of tin cans including canned fruits and vegetables, soda, beans and lentils. The more acidic the food in the can, such as with tomatoes, the more leaching that happens. Stay away.
  4. Don’t taint your sandwich. No need to wrap food in plastic wrap. Seriously. There are re-usable options.
  5. Stop buying things in plastic! Start with the single use plastic items like water bottles, k-pods and takeaway containers. And then be smarter: stock up on reusable water bottles and keep extras in your car, at work, in your bag. In a pinch, find a tap and use it. Make more things from scratch. Bring containers when you're ordering take-out or grabbing a coffee. No tote bag in your bag at the grocery store? Guess you're only buying what you can carry.

This needs your attention, our collective global awareness and action. Ask the companies and businesses you love to switch to more sustainable packaging practices, and show off your favourite reusables. And see how and where you can reduce your use of plastic.


1. “The Disappearing Male”, CBC Doc Zone, November 7th, 2008

2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Update on Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications, January 2010, http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm064437.htm.

10 Responses to “Plastic Poison: Plastic Food Package Affects Your Health”

  1. Helen Molyneux said…
    What a fantastic article. We totally agree with you which is why we make our plates from bone china. Thanks for helping get the message out there.
  2. Tiffany said…
    Loved your article. I am currently working towards removing as much plastic as I can. I have gotten rid of all of my plastic storage containers, including plastic water bottles. I am bought a TON of mason jars and still buying more. I have bought glass baking dishes and storage containers. I want to get some ceramic cookware and other things. I have bought glass water bottles and glass straws. It's a slow process but I am slowly getting there.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      That's awesome. Also good to save your old jars- from things like honey, nut butters etc. Those work great too!
  3. Maritza said…
    What a valuable information thanks a lot Meghan forsharing and taking the effort to find about all this matters
  4. Carmen said…
    I always carry a fabric bag or two in my purse to avoid using plastic bags. I like the brand EnviroSac as they hold a lot, look pretty and roll up fairly small. I have given a number of fabric bags as gifts to encourage others too. I try not to get take out very often, but when I do, I choose a place that uses rectangular containers with a clear lid. I find these the easiest to re-use in my home and give them to friends with kids and even a local school to store crayons, sewing notions, craft supplies, first aid items, etc.
  5. LaiLa said…
    So are you saying that re-using our hummus containers for food storage is not actually as good of an idea as we thought? Figured we could use it a while before recycling.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      It's a good option for a little while- but the plastic will degrade. The best option, when time permits is to whip up your own fresh batch (it tastes better too!)
  6. […] Inform yourself about the threats that plastic creates, to you and to the Earth. It is not biodegradable and it is piling up! […]

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