One of the most important things we can do for the planet AND our health is to reduce the use of plastic. The toll plastic takes on the environment is undeniable. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, plastic makes up about 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch located off the coast of California is the largest ocean garbage site in the world, and is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one. 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. And this number is quickly rising.
More importantly, however, how does plastic impact us as humans? Over time, plastic breaks down and the chemicals released leach into packaged food and beverages, are absorbed into skin, or are released into the air. Many of these chemicals have been found to disrupt hormones or have other potential human health effects. BPA, a chemical found in plastic, has been linked to hormone disruption, infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, diabetes, early puberty, and behavioral changes in children. Research by the CDC has found that 93% of Americans age 6 or older test positive for BPA. So, what can we do? On Earth Day, I discussed this on Charlotte Today. Check out the video to learn more about small and easy changes you make to reduce you and your family’s exposure. More info follows the video below.
- Hydration: In the US, we throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. Instead of purchasing single use water bottles, choose bottles made of stainless steel or glass with a silicone sleeve to avoid unnecessary exposure to chemicals in plastic bottles. Also, don’t reuse old plastic bottles, as the are made of thin plastic that breaks down with time, ultimately, leaving chemicals in your water. Install water filters in your fridge or into your faucet system to avoid using plastic filter pitchers. And, if you’re like me and can’t give up your straw, purchase steel straws for at home and on the go. (In the US alone, we use 500 million straws a day – enough to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over 9 times in a year!)
- Lunch Containers: 20 million sandwich bags go into the trash a day. Instead, opt for stainless steel containers, paper snack and sandwich bags, unbleached natural parchment paper and bags, or reusable pouches. Note that some reusable pouches are not made from cotton and may contain harmful chemicals including phthalates, PVC, vinyl or EVA. Check the ingredients or search for 100% cotton bags that can be laundered between uses.
- Food Storage: Research shows plastic containers release estrogenic chemicals, or hormone disruptors that mimic actions of natural estrogen, especially after being exposed to common stressors. One study that tested 450+ commercially available plastic products found the majority of all products, including BPA-free water and baby bottles, released estrogenic chemicals after being exposed to the microwave, boiling water, or UV light (i.e., sunlight). Instead, opt for glass with silicone sleeves. Most glass food storage containers and baby bottles can be safely used in the refrigerator, freezer, oven, microwave oven and dishwasher. Unlike plastic, glass is stable, so there is no concern of chemical leaching. You could also use stainless steel, but look for those that have labeling available to make it easy to identify your items.
- Shopping: Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. When shopping (you can even do this when shopping retail outlets), bring your own, reusable bags. Use smaller bags for produce to avoid using the produce bags, and larger bags to hold all groceries. When possible, purchase fresh food that isn’t packaged in plastic. For example, opt for freshly picked bundles of spinach in lieu of plastic bags or containers of spinach. And, avoid using plastic wrap to preserve food, but instead cover food with glass plates or use glass containers. If avoiding plastic packaging isn’t possible, lower your family’s exposure to plastic chemicals by transferring food from plastic packaging to glass after purchase.
- Cookware and Food Prep: Stainless, Cast Iron and Ceramic pots and pans are best. Trade in your plastic cutting boards for bamboo or glass, and opt for stainless, wood or silicone cooking utensils.