When it comes to bringing plastics into your home, your children’s health should be top of mind. Plastics are becoming a global issue due to the dangers they pose to human health, the expansive volume the modern world uses and disposes of on a daily basis, and the growing waste that is taking over our landfills and oceans. Based on the health hazards, now is a great time to consider how your family can reduce your reliance on plastics.
What makes plastics toxic?
Plastics are toxic due to the presence of materials that contain estrogenic activity. These materials act like hormones and disrupt the body’s normal function (NIH, 2018).
It’s not just BPA that is dangerous to your health.
While BPA is found in a large volume of consumer products, the dangers are not limited to products that contain BPA. We must not be fooled by the false sense of security created by “BPA-free” products. Based on the growing public awareness of BPA, many manufacturers have made the switch to BPA alternatives like bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF). These substitutes found in everyday consumer products like plastics present the same health issues that make BPA harmful to ourselves and our children (Rochester, 2015). In reviewing 455 food packaging plastics primarily known to not contain BPA, it was determined that most of them still contained the hormone disruptors that are harmful to our health. Did you know that exposing plastics to stress like boiling water, sunlight, and microwaves only makes these chemicals leach further from products (Yang, 2011)?
How are they harmful to your health?
- Plastics have been connected with several health issues, including early puberty in females, lower sperm count in males, obesity, issues with the reproductive organs, and increased rates of reproductive cancer.
- Fetuses, newborns and children are especially sensitive to products containing estrogenic activity.
- Plastics can permanently alter the structure and function of human cells (Yang, 2011).
- Plastics are correlated to a decrease penis size and negatively impacted the testis ability to descend and the size of the scrotum (Swan, 2005).
- The chemicals present in plastic can impact your child’s sexual expression (Patisaul, 2006).
- Scientists also believe that the chemicals we are exposed to through plastic impact many metabolic diseases, such as obesity (Charisiadis, 2018).
How much has your family been exposed to the harmful chemicals present in plastics?
To understand the extent of exposure to toxin present in plastics, we take a look at the detection of BPA in the general population, as this is one of the most widely studied chemicals in the world of plastics. The urine of over two thousand Americans over the age of 6 was reviewed, and BPA was detected in over 90% of the population. One can conclude that given the prevalence of plastics, the majority of the population is being exposed to an extensive list of chemicals present in plastic on a regular basis (Calafat, 2008). According to the review of over four hundred plastic consumer products, the majority of these products (including BPA free products) leached chemicals that contain hormone disrupting characteristics.
Micro-plastics were found floating in 80% of bottled water products.
Bottled water is a popular drink of choice in the United States and micro plastics were found in 80% of the bottled water tested (Eerekes-Medrano, 2015). This means with each sip of water you are getting a side of plastic.
Your child’s baby bottle may consist of up to 100 chemicals that can leach into their system.
The chemical make-up of commercially available plastic is proprietary and not fully available for public knowledge. A baby bottle, for example, may consist of over 100 chemicals that can leach from the product into your baby. Hormone disrupting chemicals were found in at least one component of the 20 baby bottles reviewed in a recent study, noting many these baby bottles were advertised as BPA-free giving parents a false sense of safety (Yang, 2011). With composition of plastic products unknown and the available data showing us the extent of dangers chemicals present in everyday plastic products, there is great cause for concern for consumers when it comes to their interactions with plastics.
So what can you do to protect your family and children?
In just 3 days of a plastic free diet, you can dramatically reduce the levels of chemicals in your system.
In a study in 2011, San Francisco families were put on a 3 day diet limiting food packaging, and concentrations of chemicals dropped by 53%-66% on a fresh food diet limiting packaged food exposures in a 3 day period (Rudel, 2011).
One of the first steps families can take is bringing their awareness to the potential exposures their family has to plastic.
Take the opportunity to think about the places your family might be most vulnerable to the exposure of these chemicals. Then consider what changes your family could make. Here are some potential exposures to consider:
- Personal water bottles and other bottled beverages
- Water source (such as plastic water coolers)
- Food storage and warming containers
- Food packaging
- Packaging of take out food
- Exposure during meals eaten outside the home
- Baby bottles
- Children’s toys that end up in their mouths
- Lunch boxes
- Eliminate and reduce our reliance on single use plastics (straws, coffee stirrers, to go cups, snack packaging, etc)
Once you determine your risk, you can start to make small shifts with your family. Small shifts over time can have a big impact. Parents should also consider making a shift towards a fresh food diet that does not rely heavily on plastic food packaging. While it is nearly impossible to avoid all plastics, there plenty products available on the market today that can help you reduce your exposures.
We as consumers can also consider ways to send messages with our purchasing power and voices to let companies know our desire for safer products and packaging for our children. Finally, consumers can put political pressure on lawmakers to push for stronger regulations around toxic plastics, as we have seen with BPA that the general public has the ability to shift the marketplace.