The Quick and Dirty on Plastics
So here’s the story about the nasty chemicals in plastics. You’ve certainly heard of BPA, but have you heard of BPS? How about phthalates? These are the three that we’ll address. BPA and BPS (Bisphenol A & S) are two of the main ingredients in making plastics. In recent years, BPA has been vilified, rightly so, which led to the marketing of BPA-free plastics. Don’t be fooled. BPS and other “ingredients” from the same family that are used in place of BPA are not better. In some cases, they are worse. So, your BPA-free water bottle is still leeching the same type of chemicals, just by a different name. Phthalates are a secondary “ingredient” in the making of plastics. Their role is to make the plastic less cloudy, more flexible, and more durable. So, for plastic to be plastic, there is some type of chemical from the BPA/BPS family AND some phthalates. As a result, there is no such thing as healthy plastic. It. Is. Literally. All. Bad.
Are you wondering what “bad” means here? Well, elevated levels of BPA/BPS/other related chemicals and phthalates is linked to several very undesirable health conditions. Think: cancer, obesity, infertility, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and a condition called gynecomastia. You know that as man-boobs or “moobs”. Oh, and you don’t just filter the BPA/BPS and phthalates out through your body’s natural filtering processes. Instead, these nasties get stored in your body fat so that they can be called upon for later. Plus, what you DO pee out isn’t entirely filtered at the water treatment facility so it cycles right back into the drinking water. What’s more is all the plastic trash that we put in landfills leeches the chemicals back into the soil and waterways. They’re the gift that keeps on giving. One might think that recycling is the answer to this. Wrong. While most plastics are technically “recyclable” material, the process is so expensive that it doesn’t benefit companies to buy that plastic trash and bother to turn it into something new. It’s just cheaper to package the laundry detergent in a bottle made of brand new plastic, which will end up in a landfill.
Addressing the Chemical Load at Home
In fact, it was watching the empty plastic laundry detergent bottles quickly pile up in the bin next to the washing machine that was the eye opener in our house. Laundry detergent is an easy switch. Simply instead choose powdered detergent that is packaged in cardboard. Done. You can also try these very cool laundry detergent sheets that come shipped to your door in a cardboard box. It gets a little hairier (pun intended) when considering, say, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, cleaning supplies, and the myriad other products that cross our thresholds.
It’s true that most products that don’t use plastic packaging are a little pricier than their plastic-laden counterparts because they have to account for the costs associated with developing products that can be packaged and shipped in glass, cardboard, metal, and paper. To this I say, consider that extra money spent on reducing your plastic consumption as an investment into your health and well being. Remember the cancer, obesity, infertility, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and man-boobs we already discussed? Well dealing with those conditions isn’t free, so pay now or pay later. So, how to proceed?
If you’re buying household cleaners in plastic spray bottles, you’re wasting lots of money and plastic to package mostly water. Consider buying cleaner in a concentrate form. You can reuse some of those plastic spray bottles you’ve already purchased to mix your own cleaner from now on. Just a few tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castille soap added to a spray bottle nearly filled with water will last you a while. And think about whether you really need a separate toilet bowl cleaner that comes packaged in its own plastic container. Don’t be a sucker for marketing. Can you just squirt a little of your concentrate into the bowl and clean with that? The answer is yes, yes you can. For glass and windows, we do a similar mix, but with vinegar. Are you still consuming plastic? Yes. Is it vastly reduced? Also yes. If you’re up for really increasing your hippie cred, you can order cleaning concentrates and glass spray bottles from Grove Collaborative.
Ditch produce bags. Why can’t our vegetables mingle in the cart? If the idea of oranges rolling around next to parsnips is offensive to you then purchase a few reusable mesh produce bags. Refuse to buy produce wrapped in plastic. I mean cucumbers and ears of corn actually grow in their own packaging. Why are they shrink wrapped onto a styrofoam tray? And if you want apples, buy a ton of apples, but you probably don’t need to buy the ones already in a plastic bag closed with a little plastic tab. If you are ready to go next level, get your meat from a butcher. Do those exist where you live? We have one, and he wraps his products in butcher paper instead of plastic. If you need to travel farther to get to a butcher, consider it time well spent. Not only will you avoid plastic contamination in your meat, you will also access way better quality meat—the only byproduct will be the friendly relationship you develop with the butcher himself.
Ditch plastic wrap, instead transfer leftovers to covered glass storage containers. You probably know not to heat your food in plastic containers, so if you store it in glass you can just go straight from the fridge to the microwave or oven. You can also walk away from the plastic zipper bags you might be using to pack up your kids’ lunches. Instead opt for these wax paper sandwich bags. They have a sticker strip on the end so that you can fold over the opening and close it securely. Unfortunately, you’ll want to throw away any plastic BPA-free water bottles you use. Make them the last plastic water bottle you add to the land fill; instead invest in a decent metal one. Glass works too, but can be a little heavy to lug around and obviously can be fragile. If you’re ready to go next level, stop buying coffee. It seems that even the paper cups are lined in BPA, plus your warm drink passes across a plastic lid before it crosses your lips. Use the money you’ll save to instead grab a couple of good stainless steel travel mugs (or use one of the 47 Yetis you’ve accumulated from all that company swag). Make coffee the way you like it at home before you leave. And when you can, remove the cover, if it’s plastic, when you’re drinking.
Speaking of stainless steel. Do you remember the metal safety razor that your grandpa kept in the cabinet over the sink? Get one and blades to go with it. There’s no need to throw away a plastic razor every time you shave. Believe me, it’s not the best a man can get anyway. If your family has fully transitioned over the years to liquid soap and loofahs, get back to basics with good old fashioned bar soap that’s packaged a cardboard box. You can get them for both body and face. We recently made the move to bar shampoo and conditioner, too. They’re like tiny bars of soap that Amazon delivers to our house in tiny cardboard boxes. If you’re like us and don’t want all these little bars sitting in little soapy mud puddles on the shelf surfaces in the shower, get one of these mesh storage bags. For moisturizer, we follow the same idea as we do for household cleaning supplies – concentrates. Instead of big bottles of lotion we keep a small bottle of jojoba oil inside the shower. Since it’s pure oil you don’t need as much, and you don’t need different formulations for face and body packaged in plastic bottles with plastic pumps. One last tip that may be new to you is that you can get deodorant in cardboard packaging. We use Native, and you order it directly from their website where you can select auto ship plans that will keep you stocked so you don’t have to make an online order every time you run out.
The Added Benefit of Awareness
There’s an added bonus when doing business with companies that are aware of the toxic chemicals in plastics – they’re often also pretty well versed in the toxic chemicals used to make the products that go inside the packaging. Frankly, the chemicals inside personal care products contribute to the same long list of conditions we mentioned above, plus a whole lot more. So, if you choose a brand of deodorant that comes in a cardboard applicator, then you’re likely applying a deodorant to your skin that is less toxic than the typical brands. It’s not a guarantee, but if you’re not yet ready to assess all the chemicals ingredients on your own then it’s a step in the right direction. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.
We should acknowledge here that switching to some non-plastic products means that you’ll need to order online and have them delivered directly to your home using a network of planes, trains, and automobiles which also contribute to environmental toxicity. BUT maybe if we increase demand on reducing plastics then maybe corporations will listen long enough to reconsider how they package the products that are available to us in our neighborhood stores.
Once you have plastics on your radar, you’ll start to notice just how pervasive it is. You’ll also get better at finding your own ways to avoid it. Remember that the goal is twofold: we want to limit your own personal exposure to the toxic chemicals in plastic, and we also want to limit the amount of plastic you contribute to the landfills where the chemicals will leech into the soil and groundwater and turn up again in your food and water. Will you make a change? Have you got an idea to add? Please share it in the comments.
The main source for the science in this article is the book Esgtrogeneration by Dr. Anthony G. Jay. Pick up a copy if you’re interested in learning about all the other chemicals (called estrogenics) that impact your body in much the same way that plastics do.
Here’s a conversation with my wife and I discussing what we’ve done in our life to improve our health.