Plastic is a large part of the world we live in today. It is less breakable than glass and lighter than metal. It is often a less expensive alternative to glass plates, wooden cutting boards, and chairs. It has become totally normalized to use plastic tens to hundreds of times each day. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of downsides that come with using plastic. Not only single use plastics such as water bottles, and food wrappers pollute our environment, but plastics also cause a lot of damage to the human body.
This post contains affiliate links. Read more about that here.
What are the problems with using plastic?
When plastic is produced it has chemicals added into it to create the desired softness, rigidity, or color. There are over 4,000 chemicals that can be used in the production of just plastic packaging and 63 of these are harmful for humans. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which interfere with our endocrine system by mimicking hormones such as estrogen. Our hormones are so important and are what drives our mood regulation, metabolism, sex function, energy, and more. When they are out of whack it can wreak havoc and leave us in a state of disrepair.
Many chemicals found in plastic are also linked to things such as fertility issues, increased risk of hormone related cancers, impairments to neurological development in children, and immune disorders. There was a study done that tested the umbilical cord blood from some newborn babies and there were dozens to hundreds of chemicals already in their bloodstreams. Unfortunately, most of these chemicals are not regulated so companies can add hundreds of them to their products which we use to hold food, drinks, and other items.
There are many toxic chemicals that also are carcinogens. The definition of carcinogen is “something that is cancer causing in a living organism”. So when you hear the word “carcinogen” it isn’t just being thrown around for fun. It is a word that packs many serious implications and anything that is a known carcinogen should be avoided whenever possible.
What chemicals in plastic cause these problems?
These are often used to make plastics softer. The phthalate molecules aren’t tightly bound to the other molecules that make up the plastic. This means that they can easily leach from the plastic and migrate to the human body. They pose many health risks because they are endocrine disruptors and have been linked to fertility issues, developmental disorders, and reproductive malformation in baby boys. There have also been reports of phthalates causing asthma and increased allergic reactions.
Additives containing heavy metals:
There are often additives to keep the plastic a certain color, to keep it “microwave safe”, to give a nice shine, and many other reasons. These additives often contain heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, mercury, and lead. These are all known to be very dangerous carcinogens.
They can also lead to permanent changes of our genetic makeup of our very cells. This in turn has adverse effects on things such as fertility, sexual function, moods, and natural bodily function.
This chemical, also known as “bisphenol A”, is used to make polycarbonate plastics. These plastics are used in plastic dishes and water bottles, toys, and often in the production of thermal paper and to line food cans. The list of things it does to the human body is staggering, are you ready?
BPA can cause inflammation, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fertility issues, and cardiovascular disease. It can damage mitochondria which leads to things like chronic inflammation. Prostate and uterine development are affected as well as our very brain chemistry. Extended exposure to BPA can lower sperm count, trigger early puberty, cause fluctuations in behavior, and increase the risk of ADHD as well as Parkinsons disease.
This is a preservative often found in cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, and plastic packaging. They are also known EDCs. When our endocrine system sees parabens, it often confuses them for estrogen. This can result in changes to our brain chemistry, poor immune function, fertility issues, increased allergies, rashes, and risk for obesity.
This chemical, similar in many ways to its cousin BPA, is used to make things such as synthetic fibers and hard plastics. The effects it has are very similar to BPA but also include increased risks of an irregular heart rhythm, tumors in the mammary glands, and infertility.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC):
This is known to be the most toxic form of plastic. The production of this plastic caused the release of toxins such as phthalates, vinal chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium, and dioxins. Each of these have a long list of dangers they pose to our health. There is residue of these toxins not only on but in the PVC which contaminates the surrounding materials.
A fantastic way to help your body detox from dioxins and some of these other chemicals is to consume chlorella. It is a nutrient dense green alga that is known as a superfood. It aids your body in removing and passing the toxins. You can buy it in bulk here!
Where plastic is hiding and the best ways to replace them
There are some plastics we all know about and then there are others that even I didn’t think about until someone pointed them out to me. Please don’t read these and let them make you anxious or overwhelmed. The low toxic lifestyle is a journey. It can’t all happen overnight. Take one or two of these and replace them as you can and then continue to slowly switch over as much as you can. When you can afford it, upgrade. If you run out of a product in a plastic bottle, buy the next one in a glass bottle. These are small attainable steps that keep you from getting overwhelmed.
This includes single use plastic water bottles as well as reusable bottles (yes, even baby bottles). There are safer options. We use glass jars as water bottles because, honestly, I love the aesthetic and the reusability of them. There are plenty of water bottles made for both adults and kids that aren’t made from plastic. There are glass options like this, and metal bottles such as this one. It can be difficult to remember if you aren’t used to it, but once you get into the habit of bringing a bottle with you it becomes second nature. Not only does this change eliminate a source of plastic exposure from your life but it also is much better for the environment!
As for switching out baby bottles, there are a few glass baby bottles with natural rubber tops. Even just storing the breastmilk in jars or glass containers instead of the plastic bags would be a great start!
Dishes and silverware
Think birthday parties, take out, or that jumbo box from Costco that you use when you don’t feel like doing the dishes. They might not be as often, but it does add up. You can simply change this by not buying them or eating out, but that can be much easier said than done. If you currently are eating off of plastic dishes or using plastic utensils, I highly recommend going to a thrift store and trying to find a cute set of glass dishes that you can use while searching (or saving) for the perfect dishes. Any time we eat food off of plastic we are risking chemicals leaching into our food. It’s an easy fix and so worth the effort.
Unfortunately, glass Tupperware or food storage containers cost an arm and a leg these days, so plastic seems like the best option. However, when food, especially greasy or oily food, sits in plastic it starts to break down the bonds and release chemicals into the food or beverage it contains.
Personally, we haven’t yet invested in a glass Tupperware set. I just reuse jars from things we buy at the store. We use jars after we finish eating things out of them, like pickles, jam, and pasta sauce. I also have a few cute mason jars from the apples we canned last year. Recyling, saving money, and lowering my toxic load all at once!
Also known as plastic wrap… I still struggle completely getting rid of this because it just makes my life so much easier. I can just toss some plastic over a container or around a chunk of cheese and toss it in the fridge. While we do try to limit this as much as possible, we have been working our way through a few thousand feet of it from a costco roll for years now. When I run out, I don’t plan on buying more.
As mentioned above, polyvinyl chloride (or PVC) is some of the worst plastic and that’s exactly what saran wrap is made from. Lovely that we put it directly onto our food, right? The best alternatives are again, a jar, or beeswax wraps. (I will eventually have a blog post about how to make them yourself but for now here are cute ones I found on amazon. Or if you want to support a small business here is the link to my friends Esty shop.)
When getting takeout its usually delivered in either plastic or Styrofoam. There are a few brands that use ecofriendly packaging but not all. So as long as we avoid the ones that use plastic, we are good right? Well, not really. Because even Styrofoam is made from a petroleum-based plastic. The best way to lower this exposure is to just not eat out as much but that is harder for some than for others. Just limiting how often you go, asking if it can be packaged differently, or only buying from those places that offer eco friendly packaging will positivly impact your exposure.
Also! If you do get plastic or styrofoam never microwave it, even if it says microwave safe! Heating plastic accelerates the breaking down of the structures and further causes it to leach chemicals into your food.
These are from restaurants, coffee shops, even the cute colorful ones we buy for our kid’s chocolate milk. A super simple solution is glass or metal straws. Personally, I prefer metal just because I don’t have to worry about my toddler biting and shattering it like I do with the glass straws. You can easily bring a straw with you, even just have a few in your car, and ask to not be given a straw when you order.
Baby or kid toys
We don’t really want our babies chewing on chemical filled toys, do we? Sadly, so many of the toys for children are made of plastic. There are a few good options that are wood, safer recycled plastic, metal, etc. You can go super deep down the rabbit hole (like I did when I found out I was pregnant with our son) and find toys that have toxin free paints and seal their wood with all natural products. Or you can be slightly less crazy than I was and just know that wood is better than plastic.
Handmade gifts or multi-functional and open-ended toys are great. Kids don’t need as many toys as society makes it seem like. Getting a few quality items that they can enjoy over the years is going to be much better than giving them a pile of plastic toys that they will love for a little while and then get overwhelmed or tired of. This was a bit difficult for us when it came to grandparents asking for birthday and holiday suggestions. We said we wanted toys that we could use for future children, so we prefer wooden toys and books!
This is one of those things that most people don’t even think about and cannot really be avoided. If you do need a medical implant of some kind you can ask if it contains plastic and see if there is an alternative. But if it is something related to your health or safety, having a bit of plastic in you won’t be the end of the world. Just try to lower your exposure in other areas instead.
Most makeup brands use phthalates to “improve” the quality of their products. They also often contain microplastics which can be very irritating. Depending on how often you wear makeup and how many products you use, this might be a very long process of switching out for cleaner makeup. Personally, I use Crunchi makeup. They use little to no plastic in their packaging. The bottles are all glass and there is plastic only used for straws or pump parts to prevent leaking as much as possible. Even the eyeliner pencil is in wood instead of plastic.
Hot coffee cups
When you go to Starbucks and order a hot latte in a to-go cup, you are asking someone to pour hot liquid onto plastic. The cups are lined with a thin plastic coating to keep the paper cardboard from getting soggy. This can easily be avoided by bringing your own cup and asking them to make it in your mug or thermos. I know some places even give you a discount for bringing your own cup!
Cardboard milk and ice cream containers
The same thing goes for milk and ice cream containers, and any container that is made of “paper”. They cannot very well put food into paper and expect it to not fall apart, so it is lined with plastic. For things like milk, you can transfer it to glass when you get it home. For some things it cannot be avoided unless you just stop buying anything packaged this way. But knowing it is there helps you make informed decisions and limit them if you deem it necessary,
This threw me for a loop when I first learned about it. Clothing made from synthetic fibers, such as workout clothes, are made from different forms of plastic. If you check a tag and it says “polyester”, “acrylic”, or “nylon” then you know it is plastic.
We are still working on slowly switching out our wardrobe for more natural materials. If you cannot do this, or don’t want to, I do recommend at least getting all-natural underwear. The skin “down there” is very thin and sensitive. The chemicals are more easily absorbed through that skin, especially when heat is involved. This is especially true for men because these chemicals are known to lower testosterone as well as negatively impact sperm count and fertility.
No, tin cans are not made out of plastic, they are made from metal. However, if the can doesn’t explicitly say that it is BPA free, then it has most likely been sprayed with a nice layer of BPA. These cans of food usually have a shelf life of several years so imagine how long these chemicals have to leach into the food. Things like soda cans also apply.
We make an effort to only get cans that are BPA free. An even better alternative is to buy and cook fresh things instead, but somethings are just easier to get straight from a can.
Just like the cans these are not made of plastic, but they are often covered with a layer of BPA. Whenever we touch a receipt, our skin absorbs those chemicals. Having wet or greasy hands makes this worse and having hand sanitizer can increase the absorption rate up to 10%. Either ask for an email version or just skip the receipt all together.
The worst part is that these chemicals can affect us at extremely low concentrations. Professor Dr. Laura Vandenburg made an illustration that portrayed this concept very well. She said to imagine an Olympic sized swimming pool (which is about 660,430 gallons), then to add to it one drop of dye. This is a one, one trillionth concentration. That is the same concentration of testosterone that makes a baby boy a boy and not a girl.
This is why that “little bit” makes such a big difference. If you are coming in contact with all of these chemicals and toxins in your food and water, your makeup and skin care, then it adds up fast!
This is an incredibly overwhelming topic to learn about, especially if you are new to living a less toxic lifestyle. Yes, it can be overwhelming but don’t look at this list and think that it’s not worth it and just give up. Remember, every little bit counts. Take those small attainable steps. Start by getting some straws and using those when you go out. Then get rid of your Tupperware and replace them with glass or just use jars. Take the time to cycle out your make up and skin care for a cleaner option. The changes won’t all happen at once but they will make a huge difference over time.
Are there any plastics that I missed? If so please leave a comment to help the next person reading this!