This year, Earth Day is focused on eliminating the use of plastic pollution. From disrupting human hormones, poisoning, and injuring marine life, to clogging our beaches, streams, and landfills, the explosive growth and use of plastics is threatening our health and the survival of our planet.
Most of the perishable foods and beverages in the United States are stored in packaged plastic or cans lined with a plastic resin. These plastics can leach substances that may be very harmful to health, especially to the health of a developing fetus and young children. While plastics leaching into food is a serious health risk, there is increasing concern about plastics in everyday life and what risks they pose when they come into contact with our bodies, air, water, and soil because plastics take, on average, 1,000 years to fully decompose.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical produced in large quantities for use in the production of plastics and epoxy resins that are used for canned foods. BPA mimics estrogen, the human female hormone and has been found in all forms of plastics and food and drink packaging, such as water and baby bottles, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, water supply pipes, store receipts, and medical devices and products (including eyeglasses, instruments, and dental sealants and composites). Up to 6 million tons of BPA are produced globally each year. As an endocrine disruptor, BPA has been implicated in increasing the risk of obesity, cancer (particularly breast and prostate), and reproductive problems in both men and women. BPA has also been labeled an environmental obesogen, a chemical that causes obesity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 93% of U. S. citizens have BPA in their urine. Significant levels of BPA have been measured in ambient air, house dust, and river and drinking water but the primary source of exposure to BPA is through the diet. BPA is now found in breast milk, serum, saliva, amniotic fluid, and cord blood, as well as in urine. Children are considered especially at risk for health consequences as a result of BPA exposure because they are unable to process and detoxify chemicals as efficiently as adults. Birth defects, childhood cancers, immune disorders (such as allergies and asthma), neuropsychiatric disorders (such as autism spectrum disorder, depression, learning disabilities, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have been increasing in recent years.
What can be done to protect our health? You can download the Earth Day Plastic Pollution Primer and Action toolkit at https://www.earthday.org/yourjourney2018/ and also try the following:
- Use Recycling Numbers 1, 2, 4, 5
- Plastic containers have a small triangle containing a recycling number from 1 to 7.
- If you must use plastic containers, use those with the recycling numbers 1, 2, 4, 5. Remember the mnemonic “5, 4, 1, 2…all the rest are bad for you.”
- Avoid plastic containers with the numbers 3, 6, and 7.
- “3” contains toxic polyvinyl chloride.
- “6” is polystyrene. It breaks down into styrene that has been found (in animal studies) to be toxic to the brain, nervous system, liver, kidneys, and stomach.
- “7” is usually polycarbonate and leaches BPA.
- Newer, safer bioplastics may be labeled 7 but they are still uncommon.
- Use Glass
- While some companies have phased out BPA plastics, the chemicals in BPA-free plastics (such as bisphenol-AF or bisphenol-S) might be just as risky.
- Store and heat leftovers in glass, ceramic, or Pyrex.
- Do not put any plastic in the microwave.
- Do not eat or drink out of anything plastic.
- Reduce The Use Of Cans
- Resins in canned food generally contain BPA.
- Acidic foods (such as stewed tomatoes) will leach more BPA than non-acidic foods.
- Choose brands that advertise BPA-free resins.
- Bring Your Own Containers
- Choose lightweight stainless steel thermos containers (versus plastic bottles) to fill with home-filtered water, coffee, juices, etc.
- Many plastic “sport” bottles and baby bottles leach BPA. Choose a BPA-free bottle if you must carry plastic or use an aluminum bottle
- Be A Cautious Parent
- Choose glass or polycarbonate-free baby bottles.
- Reconsider the use of “sippy cups,” especially if they are scratched, cloudy, or chipped. They are often made of polycarbonate.
- Choose bottles and cups made of polypropylene or polyethylene.
- Uses powdered baby formula (instead of canned formula) and do not heat it in the microwave.
- Throw out plastic utensils as soon as they are scratched or worn.
- Choose Non-Plastic Cartons
- Most cartons are coated with plastic on the inside.
- Whenever possible, squeeze your own juice, buy bottled milk, or look for cartons lined with foil.
- Go Green
- Avoid touching receipts whenever possible from ATMs, supermarkets, etc. since they are often coated with PBA.
- Purchase wax paper bags and parchment paper from health food stores.
- Try using biodegradable, corn-based “plastic” garbage bags. While they are not as sturdy or convenient as regular plastic, they won’t harm humans, animals, or the planet.
- If you must use plastic containers, recycle them.
- Consider Using Bio-Plastics
- Choose bio-plastics made from plant-based materials such as corn or starch.
- Be sure to recycle bio-plastics as you would regular plastics.
- Clean Up Trash
- Wherever you are, take along an extra bag and clean up trash. Recycle plastics and glass when possible. Contribute to the solution by being a “clean neighbor.”