A BRIEF HISTORY OF PLASTICS

Plastic was originally defined as “pliable and easily shaped (1)” and in 1907, Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, was invented.  Bakelite contained no organic molecules and could be shaped or molded into almost anything (1), making it a great product for almost any industry.  Tupperware was invented in the late 1940s, and during World War II, the need to preserve resources created a boom in the production of synthetic alternatives (1). Plastic production specifically went up by 300% in the United States and has continued to be on the rise in the decades to follow.  It was not until the 1960s that there was a concern for plastics in the environment, and the chemicals in plastics became more questionable as used in food storage in the 1980s (1). Plastic products have been found to pose a risk to human health due to leeching of chemicals into food, causing health problems including endocrine disruption.

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TYPES OF PLASTIC

Check out this chart from the Farmers Almanac about the seven types of plastic.

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Source: Farmers Almanac

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Check on the bottom of your plastic item to see what number it is and compare to the numbers below.  If your item has no number, throw it away.

  1. Relatively safe. Do not heat or reuse.
  2. Safest. Ok to reuse.
  3. NOT SAFE. Vinyl or PVC.  Normally found to contain lead or phthalates and releases dioxin.
  4. Safe to reuse.
  5. Safe, but do not microwave.
  6. NOT SAFE. Polystyrene can leach a neurotoxin called styrene.
  7. Sometimes safe. OTHER. Doesn’t fit into other categories and could contain BPA.
    Source: Mamavation.
  8. Black plastic. NOT SAFE.

Not included here is black plastic, which has been found to be even more dangerous than clear plastics.  Consider plastic cutlery and take out containers, spatulas, coffee machines, blenders and kitchenware. Black plastic typically comes from end-of-life electronic and electrical equipment (6). In a study conducted in the United Kingdom, flame retardants, chlorine, PVC, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and antimony were found within the plastic, most of which are NOT at all safe for human consumption (6).  Black plastic is linked to the same health problems as all of the other plastics.

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CHEMICALS FOUND IN PLASTIC

The major chemicals found in plastic are BPA or bisphenol-A, phthalates and PVC#3.

BPA (Bisphenol-A)

BPA is added to make plastics more durable, but unfortunately it disrupts hormones, mimics estrogen, can cause weight gain and hormone imbalance. Addtionally, exposure to this chemical can lead to premature puberty, decreased sperm quality and infertility and an increased risk of hormonal based cancers.

PHTHALATES

Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, vinyl clothing, footwear, surgical gloves and many medical devices. Worth noting, phthalates have been shown to be even more harmful to little boys.

“Phthalates harm children’s health and development by interfering with natural hormone functioning and have been linked to birth defects in baby boys, testicular cancer, liver problems, and early onset of puberty in girls – which is a  risk factor for later-life breast cancer. ” (4)

(State of New Jersey Human Services)

These have been linked to asthma (3), endocrine disruption (2) and reproductive problems.

#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)

This is found in plastic wrap, food packaging, toys. It has been linked with genetic changes, cancer and even birth defects. (5)

In addition to these, multiple other chemicals can be found in plastic, health affects which may not be known.

PRODUCTS TO REPLACE OR MINImize plastic

Luckily these days there are many products that we can choose from to reduce our plastic exposure. In the kitchen, stainless steel and glass are smart replacements. If you swap coffee cups, be aware of the lid to the cup, and also note that styrofoam is even worse than plastic! Check out the products below that can replace plastic counterparts.

Stainless Steel Cups 
Stainless Steel Lunch Containers
Glass Food Storage
Wooden and Metal Toys
Metal Spatulas
Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Glass Blender Canister
Plastic Bag Alternative
Plastic Wrap Alternative

What plastic products have you replaced in your home and which ones are you still looking to swap?

 

(1) https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313599/
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662182/
(4) https://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/opmrdd/health/pvc.html
(5) https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/vinyl-chloride
(6) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412018302125

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