Updated: Mar 23
If there is one thing we are surrounded with apart from air and dust, it is plastic and this is not an overstatement. It is in the air we breathe and the food and water we intake. Its omni presence is justified since it is cheap, light weight, can be made into almost any shape. But watch it if you are eating or drinking out of it.
There is evidence that plastics leach a host of toxic chemicals especially when in contact with heat. From these, “BPA” (Bisphenol A) and “phthalates” top the list. These are known to disrupt the endocrinal system (hormonal balance) of our body as these chemicals mimic the hormone estrogen. Hormones are efficient chemical messengers that control cell metabolism, reproduction, development, behavior and even intelligence. Therefore, when Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) sneak in, they can cause various problems.
BPA (Bisphenol A)
It is added to make the plastic tougher or to line the food cans so that they don’t react with the food stored in them. BPA leaches more if the stored food is acidic, oily or at higher temperatures. It is also present in high quantities on the thermal paper cash receipts and it transfers from the receipt to our skin and skin to the food we touch. Researchers have made association between early life BPA exposure and altered behavior along with increased probability of wheeze and asthma. BPA is also said to be associated with early puberty, obesity, infertility, insulin inhibition, hyperactivity, learning disabilities and increased risk of breast and prostate cancer. It is so pervasive, researchers have found measurable amount of BPA in blood, urine or deposited on the skin of more than 90% of the people tested.
Phthalates are added to plastic polymers to soften them. They leach out of the plastics very easily especially when heated and in presence of oils. Like BPA, phthalates are endocrine disruptors too. Phthalates have been linked to asthma, liver damage, obesity and neurodevelopmental problems in newborns. Liver toxicity decreased testicular weight and testicular atrophy were observed in rodents tested for high doses of DEHP (di (2- ethylhexyl) phthalates). So, it was replaced with DiNP (Di- isononyl Phthalate) only to study later that they may cause liver and kidney toxicity and may also cause liver tumors in rodents. DiNP is also considered an animal carcinogen.
The toxic effect of EDCs is not straight forward. It can very well show harmful effects at minimal doses. EDCs can be especially harmful at key periods as during pregnancy and post birth developments. Hormonal balance is a delicate affair and if messed up can cause grave problems.
What about BPA free plastics?
A study has shown that hormone disrupting enzymes leak from almost all kinds of plastics. BPA free does not mean that these plastics are safe. A recent study tested 455 everyday use plastic products to check their estrogenic effect. The study included BPA free products and almost all the tested products leached EA (Estrogenic Activity) chemicals.
Manufacturers replace BPA by bisphenol AF, bisphenol B/C/E/F or S to win the “BPA FREE” pageant. These may have even worse health effects. The exact chemical composition of almost all commercial plastic products are proprietary. No one knows what exactly is in that product.
RESIN IDENTIFICATION CODE
Commonly plastics are identified by ‘resin identification code’. It is specified in a chasing arrow molded or printed at bottom of the product. This code helps in identifying the type of plastic resin used to make the product. It does not signify that the product is recyclable or is made from recycled plastic. We will discuss in detail about types of plastics that can be recycled in our upcoming blogs.
Identify plastics in clothing!
It may sound strange, but there are plastic fabrics used to make clothes also. Nylon, polyester, lycra and spandex are the most common ones. Synthetic fabrics are full of toxins which can penetrate our skin and cause health problems. The most common toxins are phthalates that are endocrine disruptors as we discussed earlier, carcinogens and skin irritants like isocyanates. Synthetic clothing is said to trigger skin irritation in people with a sensitive skin. Phytoestrogens may be emitted by polyester which are EDs and may also be carcinogenic. Formaldehyde used in nylon is a possible carcinogen. Contact dermatitis is a common problem faced by people wearing spandex for a long time.
Learn to identify worn out plastics
Leaching of plastics increases by many folds if the plastics are worn out, roughened or heated. If the transparent plastic container is turning milky at places, a milky white container has developed white cloudy patches, or a superficial layer of the product is discolored or peeling out, then it is time to throw it away in a recycling bin.
Most plastic additives are not bound tightly to the polymer and will leach easily, and these additives are endless. Antimicrobial agents, heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium (all of which are possible carcinogens), flame retardants, dyes, anti static agents, fluffers, foaming agents, heat stabilizers, and the list goes on...
Now that parallels are drawn indicating plastics are toxic, why should one test the poison himself??? Isn’t it just wise to stay away from them ??? It is time to be hyper aware of plastics surrounding us.
Try to watch your personal space and evaluate just how much plastics you use.
Educate your kids.
Wherever possible go for more durable wooden, glass or steel products. If you must, then look for the RIC and stick to types #2, #4 and #5.
Never microwave in plastic. Not even if it is microwave safe. Use glass or ceramic ware for microwaving.
Keep plastic use limited to storing dry stuff.
Recycle your plastics regularly. You will do a favor to yourself and to mother earth.
Written by Guest blogger: Prajakta Chiplunkar