Within the past decade or so, researchers and engineers have made countless safety-related improvements that enhance everyday living.
Rear cameras make backing up our vehicles safer and easier, and home security cameras keep a watchful eye on our houses while we’re away.
The football rulebook was rewritten to outlaw dangerous head-to-head contact.
Pharmaceutical scientists work tirelessly to stop outbreaks like the Zika virus.
And yet, one danger seems to escape the spotlight – plastic. Literally, it’s everywhere in your home: the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom, the garage.
Walk into your bathroom and start looking for plastic. You’ll quickly find shampoo and conditioner bottles, soap dispensers, toothbrushes, soap dishes, children’s bath toys, hairbrushes and combs, shavers, toilet brushes, exhaust fan coverings, light switches, toilet paper dispensers and more. Unless you’re looking for it, though, you probably won’t notice how prevalent plastic is in your home.
It’s time to start noticing.
A visit to the local landfill offers a visual reminder of plastic’s proliferation, but let’s walk through your kitchen for another picture.
Open the refrigerator door, and you’re bombarded with plastic: a milk jug, a tub of butter, salad dressing, orange juice, containers with leftovers, mustard, yogurt, cheese slices, meat wrappers… Even healthy items like strawberries, blueberries and broccoli come packaged in plastic.
This is a problem.
Many plastics contain BPA, an industrial chemical added during the manufacturing process. BPA (short for Bisphenol A) isn’t always sealed into the container, though, allowing it to mix into your food or liquid. Research has shown that high exposure levels to BPA can impact the liver, kidneys and possibly the reproductive, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared that BPA is relatively safe because humans aren’t ingesting BPA in high levels, yet the FDA is partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program to carry out additional studies examining BPA’s impact on the body.
One thing is a certain: you won’t have concerns with BPA if your food isn’t stored in plastic containers or plastic wrap, or if you use glass or ceramic containers to store and heat up your leftovers rather than disposable bowls. Know that each person has a varied ability to clear the exposure. Just as many Americans, I grew up with plastic everywhere in my home. I found out through testing that now, seven years after clearing out all plastics from my home and eliminating plastic as much as physically possible, my body still contains BPA levels over the acceptable limit for humans. If you have children, it’s important to start addressing this now. Thinking they will be OK because they are “young and healthy” is the wrong attitude to have for their long-term health.
While removing all plastic sounds like a difficult proposition, given the aforementioned example of your fridge, many companies now are packaging their products in BPA-free containers. Just look for the special label, or commit to only purchasing ketchup, mayonnaise and other products in glass bottles. From my personal perspective, beyond BPA there also is BPS (Bisphenol S) and BPF (Bisphenol F), which in more than 32 studies have shown those compounds to be as toxic to our endocrine and hormonal system as BPA. Make a choice to use glass as much as possible.
One of the most prevalent sources of plastic in our lives is bottled water. It’s relatively inexpensive, around $5 a case, and convenient. You just grab a bottle, throw it in your purse or backpack and drink it whenever you’re thirsty. Unfortunately, it’s as easy to throw a bottle in your purse as it is to throw in the trash can, and many people do. An estimated 60 million water bottles are thrown away each day in the U.S.
Even subtracting BPA from the equation, the bottled water you’re drinking might, in fact, not be any “better” than other water sources, or cheaper. I strongly advise the use of a whole home filtration system and glass water bottles, or a glass water dispenser, which is what I have in my home. Most importantly, don’t pour your filtered water into a plastic bottle; use a glass container without a plastic straw sitting in it.
While it may be challenging to avoid plastics completely in your home-life, here are five easy strategies to begin trimming plastic from your kitchen:
- Purchase a reusable drinking glass or stainless steel water bottle. You can buy one suitable for home and one for the road. Clean out your kitchen cabinets and recycle any plastic cups you find.
- Portion food. Use glass or ceramic containers to store and heat leftovers instead of disposable plastic containers or baggies. Consider bringing your own containers to restaurants for leftovers as well.
- Buy local produce. Support your local farmers while purchasing fruits and vegetables that are not coated in plastic wrap.
- Sip from the glass or upgrade your straws. Many straws offer an unnecessary exposure to plastic. Stainless steel and glass straws are safe alternatives and are now sold online and in many retail stores and supermarkets.
- Watch what you heat up. One prevalent way that BPA and other endocrine disruptors get into your system is when plastic is warm, so getting hot food in plastic will leach the BPA right into the food. If it’s already been heated, get the food out of the plastic as fast as possible. If drinking water from plastic bottles that sat in the sun and got hot, then cooled again, just use that bottle to water plants.
We all have choices, and our decisions today will impact our bodies, our environment and our budget for years to come. The next time you walk into the kitchen, spend five minutes taking an inventory of your refrigerator and cabinets. You might be surprised at the contents, but arming yourself with this awareness ultimately leads to a healthier lifestyle.