Health

The Toxic Effects of Plastic

Did you know that every single piece of plastic that was ever made still exists on Earth today. Mind blowing, right!

This is because plastic takes anywhere from 10-1000 years or more to break down, with glass bottles being estimated to take 1 million years (the exact time is unknown) if left to decompose in landfill.

The first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules that were found in nature, was created in 1907 by Leo Baekeland.

Indeed, plastic has made the distribution of food and water around the world much easier (though I believe this to be a huge problem in itself aswell), however, more and more research and data from years of increased plastic use now advise that we seriously think about changing the way we use plastic in our everyday lives.

For me personally, I strongly believe that the health of our planet and our own health would be much better off if we dramatically reduced our level of plastic use, and here’s why:

The Impact of Plastic On Our Health

Some chemicals, like Bisphenol-A (BPA), have already caught media attention for potentially causing serious health problems, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

BPA

BPA is usually added to plastics to help make them stronger and withstand more, but it is also a know hormone disruptor and has the ability to mimic estrogen in the body, which overtime, can cause weight gain and hormone imbalances. BPA also triggers the release of nearly double the amount of insulin actually required to break down food. Overtime, if high insulin levels persist, the body can become desensitized to this hormone, which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes in some people.

What’s more, research has shown that high levels of BPA exposure is linked to health problems like infertility, obesity, heart disease, allergies, asthma, liver problems, cancer, and neurological problems, such as ADHD.

Plastics from food packaging has also been known to leach into food where it then enters our body. It is reported by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ) that over 92% of participants who were tested had trace amounts of BPA and other plastic chemicals in their bodies (this included newborn babies).

Why You Can’t Trust ‘BPA-Free Plastics’

Instead of BPA, manufacturers are now using Bisphenol-S (BPS) and other chemicals, which new research has shown to be just as bad as BPA.

Recent studies show that BPS can cause similar health effects to that of BPA. So even though manufacturers have made their plastic products BPA-free, what they’ve substituted for BPA has not been tested for the same kind of effects that BPA has on our health. Which is quite sneaky.

Phthalates

Phthalates are another chemical found in plastics. However, they can be also found in products like:

  • Cosmetics; deodorants, perfumes, moisturizers, nail polish, liquid soaps, shampoo, conditioners, eye shadows, hairsprays, etc.
  • Household items; detergents, carpeting, adhesives, air fresheners, plastic wrappers, floor tiles, food containers, shower curtains, etc.
  • Medical/personal-care products; coatings of pills and supplements, gelling agents, stabilizers, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents, etc.

Phthalates are another hormone disrupting chemical and it has been linked to many health problems like impairment of the immune system, difficulty losing weight, reduced testosterone, infertility in men, birth defects in kids, certain cancers, and many other problems. While diet is believed to be where we receive the most exposure to this chemical, this toxin can also be absorbed through the air and skin too. It appears that there are higher concentrations of phthalates in indoor air compared to that of the air outside.

The Impact of Plastic On Our Planet

Now, I wanted to share with you all how plastic is having a huge impact on our beautiful planet. You may have already heard or seen it, but plastic is literally taking over the planet at an alarming rate. When we think about how long it takes for plastic to break down, and the high levels of plastic pollution found in areas uninhabited by humans (such as the Antarctic), we start to get a perspective on how much of a problem plastic pollution is becoming.

It is reported that over 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year, with around 1 million plastic bags used every minute. It can take up to 1000 years for a plastic bag to degrade, and even then they remain toxic even after they’ve broken down. It is estimated that for every square mile of ocean, there are about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it (most of which is on the ocean floor).

Researchers have found that UV light and the salt in seawater cause microscopic pieces of plastic to emit toxic chemicals like DDT and PCBs. When ingested by marine animals, these can cause a variety of symptoms associated with endocrine disruption. What’s more, these chemicals and plastics can often bioaccumulate in these marine organisms as they move further and further up the food chain, which can result in us humans actually consuming populations of fish with large amounts of these chemicals in them.

Charles Moore, an oceanographer who played a significant role in the discovery and publicising of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch argues whether plastic pollution has become a more urgent problem for ocean life than climate change.

Where These Plastics Are Most Commonly Found

Below is a list of some of the most common plastic chemicals and where they’re found:

Polycarbonate, with Bisphenol-A (#7):

  • Water bottles.

Phthalates (DINP, DEHP, and others):

  • Vinyl clothing
  • Emulsion paint
  • Footwear
  • Printing inks
  • Many children’s toys and products
  • Product packaging
  • Food wraps
  • Blood bags and tubing
  • Vinyl flooring
  • IV containers and components
  • Surgical gloves
  • Breathing tubes
  • General purpose labwear
  • Inhalation masks
  • Many other medical devices.

Polyvinylchloride (#3PVC):

  • Plastic wrap
  • Food packaging
  • Toiletry containers
  • Cosmetics
  • Cot bumpers
  • Floor tiles
  • Baby dummies (pacifiers)
  • shower curtains
  • water pipes
  • Garden hoses
  • Inflatable swimming pools

Now, you may be sitting there reading this and thinking, “My gosh, is there anything out there that isn’t going to harm me?” And I totally understand that. It can seem overwhelming and frustrating, but I truly believe that reducing our exposure to plastic will have wonderous effects on our health and our planet.

Actions We Can Take

When we focus on plastic pollution and the high levels of plastics in our oceans, landfills, and even remote areas of our planet, the future seems a little bleak. But I always believe that “While there’s life, there’s hope.” (this quote by Marcus Tullius Cicero continues to inspire me).

One huge step we can take is to reduce the amount of plastic products we are buying and using (similar to the movement that’s going around on replacing single-use plastics). This will help to minimise our individual impact on plastic pollution, reduce our exposure to those harmful chemicals, and in the long run, may help us to save  money (win-win for all!). Here are some great ways to start:

  • Swap to using glass or even stainless steel water bottles. These will replace disposable plastic water bottles. What’s more, fill your water bottle up from a stainless steel reusable water filter to help reduce exposure to harsh chemicals that may be present in water.
  • Stop purchasing processed foods that are packaged in plastics. This will help to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce each year as well as reduce exposure to plastic chemicals that could potentially leach into our food. Shop at farmers markets and use reusable bags to carry your items.
  • Switch to reusable shopping/grocery bags. You can find these online or at many stores.
  • Replace plastic bags and food storage containers with reusable ones. Thin plastic storage containers, plastic wrap, and plastic bags are some of the main sources of plastic exposure. Instead, switch to stainless steel or glass for storage. If you’re worried about glass containers breaking (which is understandable), silicon containers are another alternative.
  • When out, bring your own reusable metal/glass bottle or thermos. Avoid takeaway cups and Styrofoam containers, as they are a major source of plastic chemicals and waste.
  • Switch to using glass and metal plates, dishes, bakeware, and silverware. Don’t use single-use plastic cutlery, plates, etc. This may be easier as you don’t have to clean, but it has a huge impact on our planet, as well as your health.
  • In place of plastic toys, buy wooden or metal toys for your kids instead. These will help to lessen your child’s exposure to plastic chemicals. Plus, they last longer!
  • Switch to using cloth nappies instead of disposable ones. Now you may look at this and think, “Ew,” but before you disregard it completely, cloth nappies are nothing like they used to be! For instance, our washing machines are much more high-tech, we have advanced fabrics and designs, and if all else fails we have a wealth of knowledge and information available to us via the Internet, which can aid us in the job. Now, using cloth nappies may not be for everyone, and if this is the case for you, there are some eco-friendly disposable nappy options available.
  • Reuse and recycle as much as possible!

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Have you ever thought about how much plastic you and your family use on a daily basis? What are some of your suggestions or tips on how to reduce it? Comment below, we’d love to hear them!

Have a great day!

Vanessa xx

 

Sources:

4Ocean Team. (January 20, 2017). How Long Does it Take Trash to Decompose. 4Ocean. Retrieved from https://4ocean.com/blogs/blog/how-long-does-it-take-trash-to-biodegrade

The History and Future of Plastics. Science History Institute. Retrieved from https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics

Wells, Katie. (July 30, 2018). The Dangers of Plastic. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/23757/plastic-dangers/

Calton, Jayson, PhD, Calton, Mira, CN. The Micronutrient Miracle. Victoria: Nero, 2015. Print.

Axe, Dr. Josh, DC, DMN, CNS. (July 16, 2018). BPA Toxic Effects & Symptoms: How BPA Destroys Your Body. Dr. Axe.  https://draxe.com/bpa-toxic-effects/

Ruggeri, Christine, CHHC. (August 10, 2015). Phthalates, Fat-Promoting Chemicals, Are Hiding Out Here… . Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/phthalates/

Wells, Katie. (August 23, 2018). Cloth Diapers 101: How to Get Started. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/61634/cloth-diapers/

 

 

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