We are surrounded by plastic materials in our homes: kitchen utensils, food containers, water bottles, laundry baskets, furniture, and toys. Plastic is also in contact with food we consume daily; either as a component of food packaging or utensils we use to cook and eat. Therefore, it is crucial to guarantee plastic is non-toxic and safe. You have probably noticed some tags on plastic containers and kitchenware saying they are BPA-free together with the words non-toxic, no bisphenol A, healthy and safe. But are they really safe and non-toxic?
First, let’s understand what BPA means: it is an acronym for Bisphenol A, a synthetic substance used to make plastic harder and clearer. This substance was first tested as a synthetic form of oestrogen for female hormone replacement therapy in 1936 by Sir Charles Dodds, a University of London medical researcher. However, it was never developed as a commercial drug since his tests proved it was much less efficient than other substances. It was only in the 1950’s that chemists and producers in the United States started using BPA to produce epoxy resins and polycarbonate, a harder and clearer type of plastic.
BPA toxicity and danger resides in its hormone-mimicking effect, so when this substance leaches to your food and drinks you are receiving an unnecessary extra dose of synthetic hormone. Although there is no definitive study about its effects and the maximum safe exposure, BPA has been related to higher risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and reproductive problems. In embryos and children, it was also related to brain development problems and early puberty and that’s why the industry of child products was the first to adopt BPA-free plastic in baby bottles and sippy cups.
Now there are many BPA-free plastic containers in the market, but they are still not free from oestrogen mimicking substances. This University of Texas-Austin study shows that most BPA-free plastics still leach chemicals with oestrogen activity in the same way that BPA plastic does when heated, exposed to microwaves or UV radiation.
So how can you protect yourself and especially your kids from these toxic substances? First, you have to be aware of all the products that might contain toxic plastic and avoid them, secondly, you have to know how to handle the plastic products you cannot avoid.
1. Where can toxic plastic be found?
It can be found in many different products you have at home: food containers, water bottles, plastic kitchenware, toys, body wash, hair products, makeup, eyeglass lenses, toothpaste, canned food and drinks, and even on paper receipts and airline boarding passes.
It is very important to read labels when buying canned food as they are often lined with plastic containing BPA. Replace all your plastic kitchenware for bamboo, wood, ceramic and glass alternatives as they are safer and sustainable. Remember, plastic leaches toxins when heated, so plastic cooking utensils are probably the most dangerous items.
If you have kids, start by replacing all plastic kitchenware and containers that are used for preparing and serving their food and replace plastic teething toys for fabric and wood alternatives. Utensils and objects used by pregnant women should also be prioritised in this replacement process.
2. How to handle the plastic I cannot avoid?
The most important thing is that you should never microwave a plastic container. If you use plastic containers to store food or buy ready meals in plastic containers, transfer the food to a ceramic or glass plate or bowl before microwaving it.
If you have plastic kitchen utensils, avoid contact with heat, direct exposure to sunlight and never use steel wool to clean them, but a soft sponge instead.
Besides being toxic, plastic is not sustainable, it is made of fossil fuel and is not naturally degradable. Recycling can reduce its impact on the environment as the quantity of plastic polluting oceans and soil is overwhelming at the moment, but it is still an expensive process. With petroleum prices plummeting recently, it is now cheaper to produce virgin plastic than recycling it as this Business Insider article shows. It is unlikely that the market will favour recycling over virgin plastic at the moment and avoiding this material in your daily choices will be a great contribution to a greener world.
Observe all the plastic kitchenware and items you have at home and start by replacing the easier ones. You might be surprised by how many greener alternatives you have to plastic household items, such as ceramic, glass and wood containers, fabric reusable bags, plastic-free water filters, glass blenders and coffee makers, bamboo kitchenware, and many more. Say no to plastic and Green It Yourself… Now!