Is Any Plastic Safe?
Plastic has gotten a lot of attention lately. Concerns about plastic in children’s toys, kitchenware and water bottles have become mainstream. We know that we’re supposed to avoid certain things, but we don’t know why, or how choosing an alternative will somehow be safer. Or, if any of our options are safe at all.
Here’s the skinny: chances are, if you’re concerned about plastic, you know to avoid BPA. BPA, along with several other chemicals in plastic, is an endocrine / hormone disruptor, and is found in 90% of American’s urine, according to the NY Times. You read that right; it disrupts your hormones. And ladies, I don’t think I need to tell you how delicate that balance is! As the NY Times reported; even before the latest research showing multigeneration effects (yes, that means that you’re inadvertently poisoning your children and grandkids), studies had linked BPA to breast cancer and diabetes, as well as to hyperactivity, aggression and depression in children.
You’ve also probably heard that to use plastics safely you need to keep them out of the dishwasher and microwave, even if they’re labeled as safe for both. So you think, “Easy. I’ll just cut out BPA, hand wash, microwave in other containers, and I’ll be fine, right?” Wrong.
We are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and unfortunately, so are our products. And BPA isn’t the only toxin in plastic.
Here’s the problem: it turns out that many products that are “BPA-free” still contain substances that behave in the same ways that make BPA dangerous in the first place. In fact, some of these non-BPA replacements are actually more harmful than BPA itself. Even more disturbing, there’s no way to know whether or not these substitute ingredients are present because companies are not required to label them. Nor are they required to test their safety to begin with. We are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and unfortunately, so are our products. This essentially makes consumers unknowing guinea pigs.
So you think, “I’ll just do my research, right?” Well, maybe. The thing is, the plastics industry has gone out of its way to inject confusing and often contradictory information about plastic’s safety into the market. For any study that proves something is unsafe, you are likely to find another study proving that it is.
At first I thought this ample amount of research was a good sign. Nothing stamps the seal of approval faster for me than hard, scientific evidence. Unfortunately, it seems that these plastic-endorsing studies have been severely skewed. For example, one industry-backed study sought to prove BPA’s safety by testing it on a particular strain of rat, a rat that is already a known exception to the rule and is not affected by BPA.
In addition to conducting skewed experiments of their own, the plastics industry has tried to discredit legitimate studies. If this desperate sabotage on the part of the chemical and plastics companies isn’t reason enough to make you think twice, perhaps this statistic is. According to an exposé by Mother Jones, 90% of of all the government-funded studies surrounding BPA’s safety concluded that BPA is harmful. In contrast, none of the industry-funded studies found it to be harmful.
BPA is the obvious example, but this type of conduct applies across the board. It should also be noted that the plastic industry has enlisted the help of the Weinburg group. This is the same group that created Big Tobacco’s White Coat Project, which recruited doctors to speak out against the mounting evidence that secondhand smoke was harmful. We all know how that story played out…
90% of studies conducted by government-funded scientists concluded that BPA is harmful. In contrast, none of the industry-funded studies found it to be harmful.
Given all this, it’s not surprising that we don’t know what to do about plastic. Is any plastic safe? The reality is this: at this point, not really. What about hope for the future? Well, even if one brand does come out with a safe product, it’ll be too tough to know what studies are real and which are fake. I do know that there is an easy way to at least lessen if not totally eliminate the plastic in your life, and that is by switching to glass. But if you’re looking to cut out plastic entirely, you have a tall order ahead of you.
Some worthwhile adjustments are easy to make, such as switching to a stainless steel water bottle. But what about those bottles of sunscreen in my cabinet? What about the otherwise super healthy Greek yogurt that comes in a plastic container? What about peanut butter? What about all my many skin creams??? As eco-friendly and health-conscientious as I would like to be, I don’t see myself making my own cheese or yogurt anytime soon for the sake of making sure it never gets stored in plastic. The sheer volume of what’s required to keep my body safe is giving me heart palpitations as I write this. Within three feet of where I’m sitting, I see my Ecco Bella foundation, my Desert Essence lip gloss, and some massage oil, all bottled in plastic. I’m going to slowly replace all the products that I can with ones that come in glass containers, because the alternative (getting sick) is too scary. But sometimes it seems like as a society we’ve already opened Pandora’s box, and there’s no going back.
Tip: Our Editor-in-Chief Hilary Rowland made a Pinterest board of plastic-free products to get you started (she’s managed to successfully eliminate plastic from her life.)
As such a common staple in our day-to-day lives, it’s hard to imagine a future without plastic. With concrete evidence that it’s dangerous, it’s hard to imagine a future with it, too. Therefore, it seems wise to consider not only how plastic is affecting us, but how stress about plastic affects us. Knowledge is power, but it’s a pretty deceptive form of power if it takes over our sanity. After writing this article, I will be switching to glass storage containers, but I know that I won’t be able to avoid plastic entirely. I will, however, try to consistently choose the lesser of the available evils. If you must use plastic, try to avoid PVC (those marked #3 for recycling), polystyrene (#6), anything marked #7, and PET, as these are the types that leach the most chemicals. Try to avoid plastic whenever you can, really. Just don’t let the stress of avoiding plastic become more of a problem than the plastic itself.