Plastic: The Cost of Convenience May Not Be Worth It

I love convenience and efficiency. I loved it even before I had two crazy little boys filling up all of my spare time. Particularly, food convenience: you know, those pre-packed ingredients that all you had to do was throw in a pan or slow cooker. Then, voila! Dinner done.


I wonder, though, what is the health cost of all of this convenience? I did my (first) undergraduate research, many, many moons ago, on BPA (bisphenol A) and its effects as an environmental estrogen. By now, most people are pretty savvy about BPA. It’s been removed from baby items like bottles and sippy cups, and food packing as well.


But here’s the real kick in the teeth:

BPA was replaced with other, just as toxic, substitutes. And that’s just BPA. That doesn’t even touch on phthalates, or other plastics we use all the time.


Kids are more susceptible to the effects of toxins. They’re smaller, and are growing rapidly. They put stuff in their mouths, and breathe faster. It’s the perfect storm for excessive chemical body burden. I’ve seen it estimated that there are 80,000 chemicals in commerce but only 200 have been safety tested. That’s a myth. While there was a huge chemical production boom in the 20th century, there are very rigorous testing protocols in place. The problem lies in the research. We don’t always know what questions to ask upfront.


Since we have moved from using naturally occurring materials to manufactured materials, our chemical exposures also increased. Newborn babies even have chemicals in their bodies at birth. Environmental toxins from things like plastics have been associated with everything from language delays and ADHD, to early puberty, and even cancers. This doesn’t mean that everyone who uses a plastic cup is going to get cancer. I realize that “everything is going to kill us,” is a terribly alarmist point of view. But, avoiding plastic is a fairly easy change to make, so, why not eliminate a risk factor?


Here are some ways that my family and I reduce our exposure at home:


  1. Reduce plastic use: we cook and store our food in glass containers and use reusable stainless steel water bottles and sippy cups. We also have reusable grocery bags (unless I forget to take them with me to the store!!), and try to buy fresh or frozen foods whenever possible.
  2. Do not heat food or drink in its plastic packaging: You know how water tastes funny when it has sat in the car for a day in the plastic bottle? Or, how floppy plastic baggies are when you microwave them? These are both signs that the plastic stabilizers (like BPA, or phthalates) have leached into your drink and food. Heat, fat, and acid all cause plastics to leak their chemicals. So. Don’t heat your food in its packaging.
  3. Take off your shoes: this one may seem silly, but you would be amazed at the amount of stuff you track in to your home on the bottom of your shoes. If you take off your shoes when you get home, you also won’t need harsh cleaning chemicals, which reduces your toxin exposure even more. Two birds. One stone.


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