Take a glance around the room you are in and see how many items are made from plastic. You may be surprised to learn that the clothing you are wearing and the surface you are sitting on likely contains plastic.
We are living in the “Plasticine” a new historical epoch used by scientists to describe the ubiquity of plastics in our environment (and our bodies!).
Microplastics are tiny plastics (some are 100 times smaller in diameter than a human hair), and they have been found in varying concentrations in marine and fresh water, soil, agroecosystems, air/atmosphere, food, drinking water, plants, animals, and even in polar regions! This is truly the definition of ubiquitous.
Microplastics and nanoplastics introduce toxic chemicals into our ecosystems and our bodies, and as of now we don’t fully understand the health impact that this has on our planet and all living creatures, including humans.
In general, there is lack of knowledge and regulation regarding many of substances used in the plastic industry. Many of the substances used to produce plastics are known to be harmful to humans especially the “additives” which give plastics their specific qualities. Types of additives include fillers, plasticizers, UV stabilizers, dyes, and flame-retardants, many of which are toxic and have high potential to contaminate our water, air and soil.
(Examples of fillers include talc and asbestos; examples of plasticizers include cadmium, barium, lead salts, BPAs and phthalates; Dyes are often made from heavy metals.)
One of the most concerning group of chemicals used in plastic production are called Endocrine Disruptor Compounds, or EDCs. EDCs are chemicals that are not naturally produced by the human body but effect human hormones, glands and organs involved in the hormonal system. EDCs can be ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin.
Exposure to EDCs is associated with many health conditions, including hormonal cancers (breast, prostate, testes), reproductive problems (genital malformations, infertility, PCOS), metabolic disorders (diabetes, obesity), asthma, and neurodevelopmental conditions (learning disorders, autism spectrum disorders).
Some commonly used plastic additives have gotten a lot of press for being endocrine disruptors, including Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and brominated flame retardants. Many companies have advertised their plastic products as being “BPA free,” but we now know that the replacement chemicals (BPS, BPF, BPAF), are just as dangerous if not worse for human health.
BPAs (and other Bisphenol replacements) are uses as plasticizers in food storage containers, water bottles, lining for cans and jar lids, and sales receipts. Bisphenols leech into foods or liquids when the plastic is exposed to microwaves, heat, cold or just wear-and-tear. Exposure to BPAs is associated with cardiovascular disease, obesity, breast cancer, and reproductive disorders.
Phthalates, are another endocrine disrupting compound used as a plasticizer. Phalates have been shown to be carcinogenic and toxic to reproductive health, as well as prenatal and postnatal development of babies.
Heavy Metals are commonly used as plastic additives, including Antimony, Aluminum, Zinc, Bromine, Cadmium, Copper, Mercury, Arsenic, Tin, Lead, Titanium, Cobalt, Chrome, Barium and Manganese. Some heavy metals mimic estrogen and are associated with breast cancer. Heavy metal exposure is connected to the following health conditions:
- Congenital disabilities, anemia, infertility, miscarriage.
- Disease of the kidney, lung, liver, blood, GI tract, bone and cardiovascular system.
- Brain damage, neurological deficits, and neurodegenerative disorders.
- Cell toxicity and death, DNA toxicity and damage, carcinogenesis, and formation of radical oxidative species.
So now that we’ve reviewed some really scary facts about plastics, what can we do about it?
While real change must come from the industry level (and we can support policies that call for transparency and regulation of industrial chemicals), there are ways that you can reduce your exposure to plastics every day.
1. Avoid Plastic Food Containers, Cooking Tools, Food Vessels and Utensils
Take your food out of plastic packaging. Use storage containers made of glass, stainless steel or bamboo. Please do not microwave food in plastic! This is obviously challenging for babies and young children, however they are likely the most susceptible to harmful chemicals.
2. Avoid Bottled Water
Water in plastic bottles contains twice as many microplastics compared to tap water. Use a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle.
3. Avoid Takeaway Hot Cups and Food Containers
Takeaway containers are lined with plastic, another reason to cook your own meals. Use a stainless steel thermos for your hot beverages, some cafes will allow you to bring your own thermos when purchasing coffee or tea.
4. Avoid the Really Harmful Plastics ( # 3, 6, 7)
Those little numbers on the bottom of plastic containers refer to the type of plastic and let us know how safe they are. The most unsafe numbers are 3, 6 and 7, they are known to leech and have defined health effects. Numbers 2 and 4 are considered the safest as they are non-leeching , and number 1 and 5 are somewhere between the other groups, with known leeching.
5. Avoid Purchasing Synthetic Household Items, like rugs and furniture (Buy Second Hand!)
Choose natural materials when possible like wood, metal, glass, stone and wool. Buying second hand makes choosing natural materials more affordable and it keeps useable items out of landfills. Not to mention, used goods have time to “off-gas” lots of nasty chemicals (i.e Volatile Organic Compounds or “VOCs”) that are used in manufacturing.
6. Attach A Water Filter to your Sink
Many companies produce easy to attach water filters for above or below the sink that can filter microplastics and other water contaminants. Make sure the product lists out what it filters, you can even request studies from the company that show the filter does what it claims. I generally recommend against a reverse osmosis filter as this can strip away minerals from the water.
7. Use an Air Purifier At Home
Again, there are many air purifiers that can filter microplastics and other air contaminants. Make sure the products lists out what it filters. Keep your air purifier in the rooms you spend the most time in (usually the bedroom).
8. Avoid Eating excessive Fish and Seafood
Fish and other seafood is a healthy source of protein and fats, but they also contains heavy metals and microplastics from polluted water. Land animal meat and dairy has also shown to contain microplastics. Its best to eat these foods mindfully and in moderation, and increase plant foods in our diet.
9. Swap out Tea Bags for Loose leaf Tea
Many commercial tea bags contain plastic in the tea bag itself and in the glue used to seal it closed. A recent study show that steeping a plastic tea bag in boiling water released over 11 billion microplastics and 3 billion nanoplastics into the liquid. Use a reusable stainless tea infuser or buy from companies that are plastic free like Traditional Medicinals, Yogi, Pukka, and Choice.
10. Avoid synthetic material clothing (i.e- nylon, polyester, acrylic)
Synthetic materials are made of plastic and 100,000’s of microplastics are released into our water system (and the ocean) per wash when we do laundry. Although this is a less direct exposure of plastics, it increases the plastic load in our environment as a whole.
11. Use a vacuum with a HEPA Filter
Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter sucks up tiny particles, including microplastics, instead of recirculating them throughout the room where they can be inhaled.
For More information about chemical exposures in our every products, please visit the Environmental Working Group’s website: www.EWG.org.
In good health,
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2. Thoene M, Dzika E, Gonkowski S, Wojtkiewicz J. Bisphenol S in food causes hormonal and obesogenic effects comparable to or worse than bisphenol a: A literature review. Nutrients. 2020. doi:10.3390/nu12020532
3. Kechagias KS, Semertzidou A, Athanasiou A, Paraskevaidi M, Kyrgiou M. Bisphenol – A and polycystic ovary syndrome: A review of the literature. Rev Environ Health. 2020. doi:10.1515/reveh-2020-0032
4. Hernandez LM, Xu EG, Larsson HCE, Tahara R, Maisuria VB, Tufenkji N. Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea. Environ Sci Technol. 2019. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b02540
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