Thousands of people have read my post on “Why Styrofoam is Bad” and I think people are also curious as to why plastic is bad. There has been alot in the news lately about how plastic is not good for our health, it has made the baby product industry particularly evaluate their products and many carry labels professing that they are free of the “bad” plastic.
What is bad plastic called on labels or chemically? Studies have shown that Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC, polycarbonate, bisphenol A (BPA) and the chemical phthalates which soften other chemicals to make the material pliable.
What are the health effects?The chemical typically found in plastic items with a recyclable symbol number 3, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) leaches the chemical phthalates out into the items/liquids within the containers. The health effects of these chemicals is decreased lung function, increased weight gain, increased resistance to insulin, low sperm count and DNA damage to sperm. There have also been studies that show infant males exposed to this chemical have negative reproductive development.
Polycarbonate which contains bisphenal A (also known as BPA) can also leech into the contents/liquids that plastic container is holding. While there has not been a ton of human studies done on the human effects these chemicals have there have been extensive animal studies and it is know that bisphenal A mimics estrogen so there are known health effects related to this finding. There has also been studies that showed bisphenal A increases the occurrence of diabetes, heart disease, and high levels of certain liver enzymes. Women who have everyday contact with this chemical can have an increase in miscarriages, polycystic ovarian syndrome which is known to cause infertility, baldness in women, and ovarian cysts. There have been 100’s of studies in animals that have shown obesity, breast and prostate gland cancer, early puberty, low sperm count, infertility, and reproductive organ defects. The scary fact is the CDC found that BPA was found in 95% of adults and 93% of children urine (source: wikipedia).
So who makes these plastics? Bayer, Dow Chemical and General Electric produce 6 BILLION pounds per year worldwide. Between 1980 and 2000 production grew 5 times just in the US.
Environmental effects of the use of plastic? We all know that plastic does not disappear on its own and everything we throw out made of plastic will be here at least 500 years from now so recycling is the only option. The recycling of plastic is an extremely expensive because there are 7 different plastic recycling codes so all plastics need to be sorted before they can be processed and that is only the plastic products that do not need to be disassembled. Many plastic items are made with different kinds of plastic and would need to be taken apart to be recycled. The cost of disassembling and recycling is usually more than the value of the plastic so that obviously that presents a whole host of problems.
What can you do? Stop purchasing products that are in plastic containers, use less plastic in your home, and if you need to buy plastic items make sure it does not contain BPA. Do not microwave your food in plastic containers and do not put your plastic containers in the dishwasher. You can also appeal to your government to make laws that do not allow these chemicals to be used in the products that we buy. Several states and other governmental bodies have worked to create legislation that protects the consumer. There have also been some recent class action lawsuits that have help sharpen the landscape of this issue.
It is important to note that MANY infant and child products have stopped using the chemicals listed above but as a consumer you should mindful of the health effects and work to avoid exposure. As consumers it is very hard to avoid plastic but the more you try the better it will be for your health and the environment.
Alot of the information I read in preparation for this article talks about how serious the effects of chemicals on fetus’ and small children. I also found that these chemicals have increased significantly in the last 20 years in average everyday item. I seriously wonder how this will affect the fertility and obesity of the children born in the last 20-25 years. They had plastic baby bottles, plastic lunch boxes, plastic bags with all their snacks in it, plastic toys…etc.
I recommend you read a very detailed artcile of the studies and results that have been done on the health effects of plastic. It very readable for the average reader and can be found at salon.com here. Here is another article that you find interesting here.
Another note: Plastic is found in canned goods as well. Many cans are coated in a thin layer of plastic on the inside so you are exposed to these chemicals with canned goods.
Below is a list of the recycling codes for plastic and what kind of plastic products carry those symbols.
No. 1: Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET). Used in food and drink containers, including milk jugs.
No. 2: High-density polyethylene (HDPE). Used in food and drink containers, detergent bottles, grocery bags, trash bags.
No. 3: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Used in food packaging, cling plastic wraps, vinyl-lined lunchboxes. Gets its flexibility from phthalates, which are possible carcinogens.
No. 4: Low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Used in dry-cleaning bags, bread bags, frozen food bags, squeezable bottles. Generally considered safe.
No. 5: Polypropylene (PP). Used in food and medicine containers.
No. 6: Polystyrene (PS) Also known as styrofoam (see my post here for more details on the health effeccts). Used in egg cartons, packing peanuts and disposable cups, plates and cutlery. Some scientists worry about the health effects of the styrene, which can leach into food and drink.
No. 7: Other (often polycarbonate, PC). Used in hard plastic sports bottles, baby bottles, 5-gallon water jugs. BPA, the chemical that the U.S. is being urged to ban, is found in polycarbonate products. There are BPA-free products made from polyethersulfone (PES), which will be marked with 7 but not PC. Consumer Reports recently tested a handful of BPA-free baby bottles and found that they contained only negligible amounts of the chemical.
Here is another chart to keep handy that describes the plastic, its use and the possible health effects.
|Plastic||Common Uses||Adverse Health Effects|
|Food packaging, plastic wrap, containers for toiletries, cosmetics, crib bumpers, floor tiles, pacifiers, shower curtains, toys, water pipes, garden hoses, auto upholstery, inflatable swimming pools||Can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction|
|Softened vinyl products manufactured with phthalates include vinyl clothing, emulsion paint, footwear, printing inks, non-mouthing toys and children’s products, product packaging and food wrap, vinyl flooring, blood bags and tubing, IV containers and components, surgical gloves, breathing tubes, general purpose labware, inhalation masks, many other medical devices||Endocrine disruption, linked to asthma, developmental and reporoductive effects. Medical waste with PVC and pthalates is regularly incinerated causing public health effects from the relese of dioxins and mercury, including cancer, birth defects, hormonal changes, declining sperm counts, infertility, endometriosis, and immune system impairment.|
|Polycarbonate, with Bisphenol A (#7)||Water bottles||Scientists have linked very low doses of bisphenol A exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity, among other problems (Environment California)|
|Polystyrene||Many food containers for meats, fish, cheeses, yogurt, foam and clear clamshell containers, foam and rigid plates, clear bakery containers, packaging “peanuts”, foam packaging, audio cassette housings, CD cases, disposable cutlery, building insulation, flotation devices, ice buckets, wall tile, paints, serving trays, throw-away hot drink cups, toys||Can irritate eyes, nose and throat and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. Migrates into food and stores in body fat. Elevated rates of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers for workers.|
|Water and soda bottles, carpet fiber, chewing gum, coffee stirrers, drinking glasses, food containers and wrappers, heat-sealed plastic packaging, kitchenware, plastic bags, squeeze bottles, toys||Suspected human carcinogen|
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