Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Including Tips to Reduce Your Plastic Use
As well as devastating the environment, oceans and marine life, plastics also threaten human health causing significant disruption to our endocrine system and hormonal health, and increasing the risks of several diseases.
Increasingly more evidence is emerging to confirm that food stored in plastic packaging can become contaminated with harmful chemicals that leach from the plastic. Small toxic chemicals found within plastic migrate into food on contact, and the plastic itself slowly breaks down over time to exacerbate the issue.
Polycarbonate, often used to make food storage containers and bottles, as well as the lining of tin cans contains the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) which has been shown to leach into our food. BPA has been associated with several health conditions including reproductive-related cancers such as prostate and breast cancers, male reproductive organ defects and infertility. Human clinical trials have also confirmed that individuals with high levels of BPA in their urine had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and liver toxicity.
In addition to BPA, the International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec) have disclosed a list of 626 different chemicals found in materials that regularly contact our foods, which have all been classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, bio-accumulative, persistent or environmentally harmful.
PVC is one such example and is used to make bottles, cling film and seals for screw-cap jars. PVC leaches toxic chemicals in the form of plasticisers (added to PVC for softening and increased flexibility) such as phthalates and epoxidized soybean oil (ESBO). Phthalates are particularly concerning due to their ability to increase the risk of endometriosis in women, reduce semen quality in men, increase obesity, and have detrimental effects on mothers and their unborn foetuses including causing labour complications and offspring neuro-behavioural problems.
Even some of the so-called safer alternatives such as BPA-free and plant-based paper products contain harmful chemicals such as PFAs, which are known as “forever chemicals“ and are so widespread in our environment that they have been found in everything from polar bears and newborn babies to milk and kale. These dangerous chemicals are associated with causing a host of health issues including liver, kidney, developmental, reproductive, thyroid and immunological problems, as well as low birth rates.
This chemical leaching is even worse when the food is hot. The commonly leached chemical styrene has been associated with causing depression and fatigue so it is really important to limit hot takeaway products that are stored in plastic packaging and also avoid heating food in plastic materials. There really is no such thing as microwave-safe plastic despite some of the claims. (Or microwave-safe anything really…but that’s a topic for another day!) This migration of chemicals into our foods is also greater with foods that are high in fat, salt and acidic properties so take particular care when storing these types of foods.
All of the above-mentioned chemicals are ‘xenoestrogens’ and ‘endocrine-disruptors’ meaning they mimic our own sex hormones, particularly oestrogen, and disrupt our delicate hormonal systems with really damaging effects. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that even at low levels of exposure, BPA and phthalates may be causing breast and prostate cancers, infertility, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Those most vulnerable to these damaging effects include babies, infants and young children due to their lower body weights, immature detoxification systems, and rapid growth and development, which is controlled by our hormonal systems.
Worryingly several animal studies, including with monkeys, have shown adverse health effects at much lower levels than previously believed so we really need to reduce our exposure as much as possible.
Plastic really is everywhere in our environment so it is unrealistic to try and avoid it altogether, but there are some great, easy-to-implement changes that we can make in our everyday lives to help reduce our consumption.
Use glass jars and pyrex, stoneware ceramic and stainless steel containers for food storage, and store leftovers in bowls with a plate to cover rather than a plastic tub
Reduce your overall consumption of items stored in plastic containers and tin cans
Wrap sandwiches in reusable materials rather than cling film such as beeswax wrap (now readily available in health food stores and online!), a cotton napkin or glass tupperware
Buy glass or stainless steel water and tea/coffee containers in place of plastic
Purchase loose fruit and veg to avoid unnecessary packaging, and preferably locally produced food to reduce the carbon footprint (and nutritional content!)
Purchase foods like cereal, rice, nuts and seeds from local shops that offer bulk bins so you can stock up with a reusable container
Avoid using non-stick pans, since these are lined with these same toxic chemicals, and instead use cast iron, ceramic or stainless steel pans with healthy oils such as raw coconut oil, good quality butter or unrefined olive oil
Cut down on ready-made meals and frozen foods; invest in some good quality cookware and brush up on your cooking skills instead :)
Quit any (nasty) chewing gum habits…
Replace plastic straws with glass or stainless steel options, or avoid altogether
Take inspiration from Sainsbury's who have made significant reductions in their use of plastic, including plastic bags and plastic food wrapping...amazing!!