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We live in a world filled with plastic. Usually, when we reach for something in the kitchen or anywhere else for that matter, we are finding the convenient plastic products in hand. From our dishes to our furniture, our world has over produced this lightweight and durable material. Now, when plastic was first introduced to the market, it seemed a great advance in technology. We were thrilled with amazing products like Tupperware storage containers that were heat resistant and so convenient, not realizing how bad this material was.
As we started to move away from materials like clay, glass and rubber, (from the rubber tree) we were completely replacing them with plastics. Incredibly, the materials that would last us a lifetime were no longer a priority. We became a much more “throw away” culture.
Getting back to the life long products, like the cookware we use, to the toys we buy for our children, simply comes down to choice and awareness. I am here to help you find easy solutions to reduce plastic consumption in your homes.
Let’s get familiar with plastic in our consumer goods
First we must have a look at where plastic is “hiding” to make better choices when buying our day to day products. Here is a list of the many different plastics, (yes there are many versions of this synthetic material) being used in our consumer goods.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) – Products: Soft drink bottles, water bottles, condiments
- High-Density polyethylene (HDPE) – Products: Milk and water jugs, detergent, shampoo, grocery bags, cereal box liners
- Polyvinyl Chloride (V or PVC) – Products: Piping, shower curtains, plastic toys, tablecloths, medication blister packs, wrapping films
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) – Products: Wrapping films, grocery bags, paper milk cartons, hot/cold beverage cups
- Polypropylene (PP) – Products: Yogurt cups, food packaging, take-out containers, bottle caps
- Polystyrene (PS or Styrofoam) – Products: Single-use cups, plates, bowls, take-out containers, meat trays
- Other (can include polycarbonate or others like compostable plastics) – Products: Utensils, food storage containers
Why is plastic so bad for us?
Plastic has now been deeply studied, with alarming conclusions. We know that plastic is not healthy and causes real serious problems with our health. Let’s have a look at some of the studies and findings over the years on the use of so much plastic.
Synthetics added to plastic that are causing health effects:
BPA: You may have heard of bisphenol A, found mostly in water bottles. This chemical has been linked to horrific endocrine disruptors among our growing children and fertility issues in adults. According to one study by Yale’s Environmental Studies,
The pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD.
“There are many ways that chemicals at very low doses can produce slight alterations in endocrine signaling,” says endocrinologist Zoeller, “and it doesn’t take much, if you’re early in development, to cause long-term problems.”
Phthalates: Phthalates are considered to be especially harmful to men and boys, especially those exposed in utero. They are linked to immune system impairment, reduced testosterone, infertility in men and many other problems. There are areas around the world where communities have been heavily exposed to Phthalates from the incineration of these plastics resulting in a dramatic reduction in the birth of baby boys. You can watch the dramatic documentary The Disappearing Male to understand more.
As you may notice, plastics are seeping into our bodies, causing serious health concerns and potentially manifesting a much more serious problem globally.
- Cancer: especially testicular and breast cancer.
- Endocrine disruptors: Birth defects. Endometrioses. Infertility, especially in males. Sperm count were a typical male produces half that of what his father did. And of that half 85 % of the sperm has abnormalities.
- ADHD: exposer of bisphenol A has been found in children with hyperactivity, reduced concentration, and immune function.
- Genetic Changes: a major concern for our evolution, with plastic synthetics being directly linked to genetic changes. Conditions that affect the genetic makeup of our children can result in serious hereditary conditions.
Not just our bodies, but also our planet
Plastics are not just reeking havoc on our bodies, but also the planet. According to Ecowatch.com plastics have caused extreme damage to our oceans, wildlife and soils. Check out some of the points they have listed:
- 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
- We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
- The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
- Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.
- The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production (bioplastics are not a good solution as they require food source crops).
- Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year (source: Brita)
- Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one-liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- 46 percent of plastics float (EPA 2006) and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.
- It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade.
- Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. 80 percent of pollution enters the ocean from the land.
So what do we do?
We have only touched the surface on the effects plastic has had on ourselves and the planet. There is much more that we have not covered in this article and we are still learning decades later how bad the effects really are. After an insane amount of plastic use and major pollution spreading around the planet, we still have not seen all the damage. We now have to start making changes.
These changes are going to be very doable. You can start simple and move forward to the bigger changes. Let’s create a healthy life for all of us, ourselves the planet and the beautiful co-inhabitants we live here with.
- Use a to-go mug: a very simple change that will dramatically change the amount of plastic waste, including plastic lids, linings, and straws.
- Bring your cloth shopping bags: You can bring cloth shopping bags everywhere with you. Even when you are shopping for clothing or household items. All you need is your receipt instead of bringing home all those non-recyclable bags.
- Bring reusable utensils: if you decide to go camping or on a picnic, bring back your dishes. You really do not need to have single-use serving supplies, especially if you are out in nature, taking your time to soak in all in.
- Do not use plastic food wrap: You can exchange the plastic food wraps for brown paper lunch bags, a lunch box, glass or silicone Tupperware. Use a stainless steel thermos rather that plastic cups especially for our children.
- Compost: composting will help with the amount of waste you require to put in plastic bags that end up in the landfill. You will be surprised how much less you will go through.
- Buy local foods: Food traveling around the world requires a lot of plastic wrapping and major waste. When you buy food from a local source you eliminate all the plastic used to transport it.
- Read labels: A lot of the products you buy you may not even be aware of what they are made from. You can always choose to buy something made from a much more eco-friendly material. Be sure to check your labels on clothing, textiles, including things such as your yoga mat.
- Choose glass or recyclable health care products: you can in fact buy shampoos and personal care products from containers that are totally recyclable or housed in glass.
We have the power to change our actions, we just need to make a choice. Let’s keep this planet full of breathtaking moments, beauty and thriving with life.