A few of my favourite 'plastic a lot less' things - homemade bread in a 4myearthbag bag, mushroom soup stored in a recycled, glass jar and butter in a ceramic dish.
So...Plastic Free July is nearly here again. I wonder how much collective waste will be averted around the globe as conscious consumers go gung-ho finding new ways to reduce their use of plastic? When considering the life-cycle of a plastic product, it's handy to remember that you simply can't throw plastic away - because there is no 'away'. It will be with us, and successive generations, for years to come. The longevity of some plastics is estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years!
Plastic materials in landfill break down to release harmful chemicals into soil and groundwater and most of the marine debris around the world is comprised of plastic materials. During 2010, we (the people of earth) produced around 275 million tonnes of plastic waste alone - too large a figure to even comprehend - and where does it all go? The human race is consuming and discarding at a rate well beyond what the planet can carry. The madness has to stop somewhere...
Lucky Bay, Esperance - we'd love to keep Australia THIS beautiful
No doubt that the consumption of plastic products is having a bad impact on the planet and our oceans but it ain't all about the waste. Did you know plastic is also pretty bad for you too?
I grew up in the eighties, when Tupperware was king and plastics were to be found in everything from food storage and kitchen equipment to fan-dangled new fabrics for the fashion and soft furnishing industries. Plastics and toys were seemingly a match made in heaven. This magical substance could be moulded into any shape, in any colour. It didn't smash when dropped and with the addition of plasticisers, could become soft and pliable like rubber. How babies and toddlers love to chew on toys like this! So versatile, so cheap, so easy to produce. What's not to love?
But all this convenience may come at the cost of our health. Let me give you a simple run down of some bad boy chemicals to be found in your plastics ...
BPA (Bisphenol A) is one of the most pervasive chemicals used in modern life. It's used in heaps of products including food packaging and wrapping. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand states that this chemical poses no health or safety issue at the levels that humans are exposed to in daily life, however there are studies that show BPA exposure may cause harm and many countries have phased out the used of BPA in some products like poly-carbonate baby bottles.
Phthalates are a large group of chemicals usually found in PVC or #3 plastics and exposure to these has been linked to many conditions from impaired reproductive function to asthma and behavioral issues. As these chemicals are used in so many plastics, phthalates can often be found in household products, fragrances, food and beauty products.
Vinyl Chloride is formed in the manufacture of PVC #3 plastics and was one of the first chemicals designated as a known human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the USA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Styrene is a chemical that can leach from polystyrene or #6 plastics and can be found in food trays, disposable cups and bowls, take away food containers and opaque plastic cutlery. It has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.
So are all plastics evil? And what about recycled plastics too? Well, it seems the jury is still out. There are umpteen sources advising that some plastics are ok while others should be avoided at all costs, however there are also studies that suggest that up to 95% of plastics contain some endocrine disrupting compounds, when subjected to conditions like microwaving or exposure to UV light. There remains a lot to be verified around the safety of plastics for human health.
So... what to do? Here's my top tips to minimise your plastic exposure and reduce your use:
1. DO NOT microwave in plastic containers! (ugh, I used to do this all the time). Don't even cover your food in cling film to microwave either. Use ceramic or glass and cover with an unbleached paper towel, if you must. I usually transfer whatever I'm using to a ceramic bowl or plate and cover the top with another bowl or plate. More dishes - less risk. Exposing plastics to heat makes them leach their chemical contents and that isn't good for the food you or your children eat.
2. Avoid buying bottled water in plastic. Invest in a good stainless steel or glass bottle and fill up at a tap or water filter.
3. Just say no to single use plastic bags...it's so easy. Say it loud and proud while you get your resuable bags or boxes out at the checkout.
4. Even better, invest in a few reusables and keep them with you. Treat yourself to a coffee cup, a bamboo spork and some glass or stainless steel straws so you can avoid disposables when you're out and about. You could also keep a couple of jars or glass containers to hand ready to offer if you need to buy a takeway lunch. Invest in some stainless steel lunchware, BYO cutlery or just use your fingers!
5. I'm a big fan of handed down toys but be mindful that up until a few years ago, phthalates were commonly contained in soft plastic toys. Kids, especially babies, love to chew on soft plastic toys so these might be best turned away. There are many beautiful wooden or natural materials available now and these j-chews are awesome for teething bubs.
6. Not strictly on plastics but related and worth a mention here. TEFLON... non stick pans - think twice! They can be lined with polyfluorinated chemicals that can be released at high temperatures and while studies are still in progress, it looks like they're best avoided. Try stainless steel or cast iron instead - these will last so much longer too.
I've made it clear in last year's 'My Guilty Secret' post that I'm definitely not plastic free but I'm always working towards it. Please feel free to add any suggestions you have in the comments and share with our community of conscious consumers.
Join the Plastic Free July challenge here and make sure you read the guest blogs for many more awesome tips for becoming plastic free.
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It rained and the roof leaks, but the cat has found a patch of sunshine and the self-sown seedlings are taking over the garden...life abounds even in the dry!