How many plastic items have you come into contact with today alone? The number might be difficult to count, as nearly everything seems to come in plastic nowadays. We drink water out of plastic bottles, eat food out of plastic containers and put plastic toothbrushes in our mouths. But while plastics may be incredibly convenient, the chemicals used to make them contribute to a wide variety of health problems. In the article below, we’ll go over the main health risks that come from plastics and helpful tips on how to reduce plastic use.
Limiting Your Exposure to Bisphenol A
One of the nastiest culprits found in many plastic products these days is the chemical compound Bisphenol A, or BPA for short. Alarmingly, it’s been estimated that up to 93% of the American population has a detectable amount of BPA in their system! (1) But what is it and what are some of the negative BPA effects you want to avoid?
What is BPA?
BPA is a compound used to harden plastics. This includes all sorts of plastic cups and drinking containers on store shelves. Note that BPA is also sometimes used in can lining as a way to prevent corrosion and to protect food from bacterial contamination. That means that even if you avoid plastic packaging, you may be exposing yourself to BPA by consuming canned goods. (2)
The Harmful Health Effects of BPA
BPA exposure has been linked with cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It also imitates the effects of estrogen, thereby disrupting the natural functions of the endocrine system. The endocrine glands are the glands in your body which produce hormones.
And hormones, of course, are vitally important for a wide variety of bodily functions. But as men and women require a different balance of certain hormones, BPA is going to affect the sexes differently. But in either case, sadly, it won’t be in a good way. (3)
Negative BPA Effects for Women
A high concentration of BPA can potentially result in the following ailments:
- Breast cancer
- Hormone imbalance
- Early menopause
Negative BPA Effects for Men
As mentioned above, BPA mimics the effects of estrogen in the body, so men should be especially wary. According to some, high exposure to BPA in everyday life is why, generally speaking, men seem to be less “manly” nowadays compared with previous generations.
Men’s health issues that can arise from high exposure to BPA include:
- Lower testosterone levels
- Gynecomastia (“man boobs”)
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Prostate cancer
How to Reduce Exposure to BPA
If a person lives a healthy lifestyle and only comes into contact with BPA occasionally, there is very little risk. The liver will simply process and expel the toxins, which normally takes around 6 hours.
But the scary thing is, an overwhelming number of Americans tested had measurable amounts of BPA in their systems. This indicates that the majority of us are repeatedly exposing ourselves to BPA all throughout the day! And rather than being flushed right out, BPA may end up lingering in our fat cells and liver. (4)
Most people ingest BPA by eating or drinking out of plastic containers (and as mentioned above, cans). This is because the BPA present in the plastic seeps into the food or water. And the longer a product sits on store shelves, the more BPA it’s likely to contain.
Much worse, however, is using a plastic container that’s been heated up. Heat causes a significantly greater amount of BPA to be released. (1) And the issue is more complicated than just no longer putting plastics in the microwave. A plastic water bottle can get heated up by the sun on a hot summer day, while even the dishwasher’s sanitation cycle can heat up your plastic bowls and cutlery.
Therefore, the best option is to limit your exposure to plastics in general. Learn more about how to reduce plastic use further down below.
Note that if you have to buy plastic products (as many of us do), search for the numbers 1 or 2 as opposed to 4 or 7. You should see the numbers inside of a little triangle somewhere on the label or on the bottle itself. The numbers 4 and 7 indicate the presence of BPA. And thankfully, as more and more people become aware of BPA’s negative health consequences, the “BPA Free” label is making its way onto more plastic goods.
But there’s more negativity surrounding plastics than just BPA, unfortunately.
Limiting Your Exposure to Phthalates
Avoiding the harmful effects of plastic is more complicated than just avoiding BPA. There’s yet another culprit to worry about. And they can be just as harmful as they are difficult to pronounce!
What are Phthalates?
Also known as plasticizers, phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to make them more flexible. But they can also be found in a surprising amount of other products, ranging from shampoo to dairy.
The Harmful Health Effects of Phthalates
Elevated concentration of phthalates is associated with metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can result in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Like BPA, phthalate consumption is also associated with an array of reproductive issues in both men and women. It increases a man’s risk of ED. And if a pregnant woman has a high concentration of phthalates in her system, her baby might even be born with a smaller penis, according to studies. (5)
Like BPA, phthalates also interfere with the endocrine system. And prolonged exposure can also lead to asthma and the development of allergies. (6)
How to Reduce Exposure to Phthalates
- Some products may contain the phrase “phthalate free” on the label, so look out for it while shopping for things like perfume.
- The numbers 3 or 7 (often within a triangle) on a plastic bottle may suggest the presence of phthalates.
- Phthalates were only banned from baby toys in 2008. So you might want to think twice before giving your kid old hand-me-downs.
- They can be excreted in sweat, so exercise is key
- Avoid eating meat and dairy, as these foods are known to contain phthalates.
- Phthalates can also be found in shampoo. Try making some organic shampoo of your own at home and keep it stored in a jar.
Tips on How to Reduce Plastic Use
In today’s world, reducing your plastic use to zero is sadly an impossible task. But even just slightly reducing your reliance on plastics can seem like a daunting task at first. Fortunately, you can get started by simply investing in a few new products to permanently take the place of your plastic ones. Then try to seek out plastic free items next time you’re out shopping.
Understand, however, that finding a plastic free version of a product you enjoy can take some time and effort. And in some cases, you may need to change up the stores you frequent to find what you need. But considering the adverse effects of plastics on our health, as well as on the environment, a little bit of extra effort will go a long way.
Here are some tips on how to reduce plastic usage that you can start implementing today:
- Go for glass or metal containers instead of plastic whenever possible. When it comes to drinking water, tap water comes with its own set of issues, so be sure to invest in a proper filter. Carry a stainless steel canteen around when you’re on the go.
- Stop using straws, and avoid the plastic lids on takeout coffee cups. Styrofoam also contains phthalates, so drink your coffee or tea out of paper cups or regular mugs whenever possible.
- Even if you completely stop using plastic bottles, you’re likely still sticking a piece of plastic in your mouth every day: your toothbrush! But did you know that biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes are becoming popular these days? You can buy the highest-rated product on Amazon as a pack of 4.
- As more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of plastic, it’s good to see so many alternative products appear on the market. Nowadays, you can find plastic free food wrap, ziplock bag alternatives and glass food containers.
- At the supermarket, look for products that are sold in paper boxes rather than plastic. You should be able to find at least one variety of rice that is sold loose in the box as opposed to contained within plastic lining.
- The Rimping Supermarket chain in Thailand has recently started wrapping produce in banana leaves instead of plastic. While the idea may not be feasible in colder climates, you may want to encourage your local supermarket to do the same if you live somewhere tropical.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on going completely plastic free, here’s an interesting video about the steps one German family has taken:
If you’re worried about the potential health problems associated with plastic – and you should be – it’s time to start reducing your exposure today. But with seemingly everything either made of, or packaged in, plastic these days, going plastic free can seem like an impossible task. After reading some of the tips on how to reduce plastic use above, hopefully you have some ideas of where to start. The best approach would be to take things one step at a time. First, try limiting your use of plastic bottles, and then take additional steps from there.
Do you have any experience with trying to live a plastic free lifestyle? Let us know in the comments below!