Plastics don't make it possible
When plastic was mass produced in the 40’s, it seemed to be a great thing. Plastic is cheap, strong, durable, moldable. Since then, we have produced 8.3 millions tons of it, most of which is still around. That number continues to climb.
I'm sure back in the 1940’s no-one could have predicted all the ways plastic has become harmful today. While plastics were helpful for making medical devices, decreasing the cost of goods, and has kept food “safe” for decades, there are many drawbacks. Some types of plastic take thousands of years to degrade. In fact, every piece of plastic made is still around today in some version. Much of it has ended up in our oceans.
One area, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has dimensions of plastic swirling in the ocean that is larger than Texas! There are 5 areas like this where garbage convenes in the oceans. In these areas, the amount of plastic exceeds the amount of plankton by 6 times. Put another way, there is more plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the sky. Plastic is found in all the oceans, reaching as far as the Arctic Ocean.
Some types of plastics, such as BPA, degrades quickly, which isn’t as good as it sounds. These quicker degrading plastics turn into what has been called “plastic soup”. Basically a mess of particles of plastic that as it breaks into smaller pieces it releases toxins that we both can and can not see.
Plastic is also being found as a contaminant in the air we breathe. Plastic microbes from cosmetics and particles from synthetic clothing, if not gone through proper sewage treatments, can end up on a farmers field and seep into the soil. The health of the soil is important as it directly relates to the quality of our food. What doesn’t get absorbed into the soil will dry out and get picked up by the wind and we breathe it in.
Also, due to plastic’s slow decomposition process, it leaches many bad chemicals into the ground. Even in landfills, this toxic sludge slowly makes its way into our water system.
Land and sea are affected by plastics, so naturally, animals are as well. Plastic is ingested by thousands of animals. It is estimated by 2050, every single seabird will have eaten plastic. Each year it is estimated that 100,000 marine animals die due to plastic ingestion. Birds, fish, Sea turtles, sea lions, and even whales have been found dead with up to tons of plastic in their systems.
That big beautiful piece of tuna you just ordered at a restaurant, we can safely say, has eaten at least some plastic. The plastic that is in the ocean acts as a sponge. So, not only did this fish eat the plastic, but it ate all the other toxins in the ocean that the plastic absorbed. Then as the fish’s body tries to break down this plastic, all those toxins get moved into its bloodstream. From there into is muscles. Now, you have just ingested all the toxins that the fish got along the way.
It’s also common to see animals, even away from the ocean, having died from choking on plastic or their stomachs are so full of material that isn’t edible, they don’t receive signals from their bodies that they are hungry and starve to death.
Land animals, in addition to accidental death from eating plastics, have been shown to have reproductive system and developmental disruptions.
How is all of this related to human health? Well, just like animals, the same reproductive problems, and others, have been found in humans. Most notably causing concern is BPA and phthalates.
Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, yoga mats, and soft thin food packaging. BPA is found is in polycarbonate bottles, linings of cans and plastic Tupperware containers. Add heat to these plastics and it begins to leach into your food and subsequently, your body. These plastic toxins are so prolific that the CDC said 93% of people have detectable levels in their systems and, even more disturbing, found over 200 toxins in newborn babies, transferred while in the womb. Most babies born now are coming out of the womb with plastic toxins in their system!
The effect these plastics have on our human bodies is distressing, to say the least. Animal and human studies are showing the reproductive systems are being harmed by these plastics. Pregnant women with high levels of phthalates in their bodies have been linked to newborns with altered male genitals, manifesting as smaller than normal. High levels of BPA can cause fetal genetic damage, chromosome errors, increased risk for cancer and spontaneous miscarriages.
Another result of mothers with high levels of plastic toxins is babies having neurobehavioural disruptions and immune system abnormalities.
Children in our western world have been showing lower IQ, increased risk of diseases later in life, mood and behavior problems, and levels of obesity that continue to climb which has been linked to the high levels of BPA in their bodies. In fact, BPA is such a concern that it has been banned from most baby products and some toddler toys.
As children grow, this problem only gets compounded. Teenagers, especially those with a diet of processed foods, fast foods, and sodas can often feel the endocrine destruction from BPA as it affects their sleep, metabolism and hormone production.
As adults, this toxic plastic accumulation in our bodies can manifest in type 2 diabetes, kidney and liver disease, erectile dysfunction, decreased sperm count and have also been linked to the rising numbers of couples experiencing infertility.
While plastics have many good uses, the current ubiquity in our lives has caused the good it was intended for to be outdone. But don’t worry. Wall-e doesn’t have to become a documentary! There is still time to make a change to save the planet and even small changes make a difference. Just reading the article and beginning to generate an awareness for this issue is the first step! Congratulations!
Here are 7 other steps to reduce your plastic usage and begin to rid your body and the planet of toxins
- Stop using single-use plastic - Single-use plastic includes plastic straws, cutlery, bags, water bottles, cups, and take out containers. Nearly 40% of plastic falls in this category. Basically, anything that is used once and thrown away. There are lots of wonderful reusable alternatives for ALL of these items. Mightynest is my recommendation for where to start. They have everything from people just starting to dip their toes into change to those who want to jump all in (or have) and make it a lifestyle. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of blogs written and lots of Pinterest articles to help out too.
- Switch kitchen items to glass, stainless or ceramic - Your Tupperware containers are the biggest culprit, especially if it’s used in the microwave or dishwasher. Switch to glass containers and baking dishes, and stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic pots and pans. Amazon is great here. Even Target has most kitchen items in a sustainable healthy version. I just bought kitchen utensils made from bamboo from Target!
- Avoid Bottled water - This is a repeat of number one, but it is soooo important. Discarded plastic water bottles are the biggest single item pollution our waters. (Second is plastic bags.) Buy a stainless steel or glass water bottle you love. It’ll help the environment and encourage you to drink more water. Double win!
- Avoid canned food and foods contained in plastic or only purchase BPA free - This one requires a little more effort, but it is possible. Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at what’s contained in plastic and aluminum. It’s my firm belief that all it takes is just a little bit of planning to get it done. The idea here is cook big and freeze small. Cook a big batch of whatever you need and freeze it in glass in the individual serving sizes that you need. This will obviously require more time and a little more effort, but in the end, knowing that you are protecting your family and the planet your future generations will live on is worth it.
- Read ingredients - Phthalates are a common ingredient in many beauty products. Avoid anything that has Fragrance or Perfume listed on the label. Buy products that are listed specifically as Phthalate free. Or go the extra mile and make your own cosmetics and household cleaners. This gives you 100% assurance that you know exactly what is going on your body and in your house.
Micro-beads is another ingredient to avoid. These tiny scrubbing plastic additives end up going down the drain, into the sewer, and into marine life. Look for “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the labels and avoid those.
- Recycle - We are so fortunate to live in this great city of Longmont, CO. All of the Zero waste initiatives at city events is so beautiful to see. We live somewhere so beautiful. Let’s work together and keep it that way. Longmont has made it super easy to recycle. Curbside pick up accepts most items and the waste diversion center accepts the rest. They are continually working to be able to recycle more items. If you haven’t yet, contact the city and set up recycling at your house. Get composting while you’re at it! They will give you a break on your bill too.
We do recycle in the office too! Please drop off your plastic water bottles at the front desk on your way out the door. We’ll make sure it ends up in the recycling bin and not in the ocean.
- Support others doing good work - This can be as simple as picking up the plastic water bottle someone else discarded on a hike or as big as going to the Oceans and helping with cleanup efforts. A foundation that I love it 4Oceans. They are constantly working to clean the oceans and use the proceeds to make something beautiful that can also be used as a great conversation starter about the importance of reducing plastic use for health. I’m buying these for everyone this year for Christmas. (Sorry to ruin the surprise!)
It may seem a little daunting to change your lifestyle, but I promise it can be done. Once a small step gets easier, take another one or two. Soon you will be living your healthiest life possible and be making a positive impact on the planet.