Don't Eat Plastic

May 11, 2020

References:  Consumer Reports, Lancet, Marine Pollution Bulletin

During these COVID-19 times, you and I are not going to restaurants.  We are ordering carry out.  It comes in plastic containers.  We take those home and plop them in the microwave.  With that, you are getting about a credit card worth of plastic a week into you.  Hmmm.  

If you take the industry spin on exposure to plastics, you will hear an extolling of the many uses of plastics that make our lives easier and better.  There is "very little" evidence of harm.

But if you drill down to sizes, you will find that plastics break down to micro and nano-particles and have been found in Antarctic snow, Hawaiian beaches, Mariana Trench sediment.  They are everywhere.  Out of them leaches the chemicals that make plastics so versatile and flexible: Bisphenols, styrene, and phthalates.   Leonardo Trasanda, MD, director of the NYU Center for Investigation of Environmental Hazards (author of the book: Sicker, Fatter, Poorer) details the endocrine-disrupting effects in plastics.  Parts per trillion are now measurable, and our amazingly delicate and finely tuned endocrine system responds to those levels.  This results in measurable effects when you do the magic of population epidemiology: 10,000 extra deaths per year of cardiovascular disease in men from the damaging effects of phthalates.

That's not the whole problem.  Those tiny little particles are even more surreptitiously nefarious.  They bind and soak up other wicked chemicals like PCBs, long banned and no longer sold, but circulating in the dark underworld of our environment.  Plastic Microparticles pick them up and carry them around.  You get the back when you ingest those ppt (parts per trillion) of plastics. 

We collectively raised enough fuss about BPA back in the 2008 era to force most plastic manufacturers to reduce their use of BPA.  Want to know what happened?  Yup, bisphenol-S and bisphenol-F showed up,  (It's NOT bisphenol-A after all.) says  Patricia Hunt, of Washington State's School of Molecular Biosciences.  She published a report in The Lancet suggesting that our traditional form of measurement underestimates the total BPA exposure by about 44 fold.  We have left out all the metabolic breakdown products.  Same problem with phthalates.  Fetuses and pregnancies pick it all up and you get measurable results showing quite high levels.

This isn't any fun. We have to find a way of taking this seriously.

Consumer Reports details 6 steps you can do to keep yourself less plasticized.

1.  Drink tap water, not plastic bottled water.  (Unless you have lead or copper in your tap water)

2.  Don't reheat your food in plastic containers.  Stop it.  Just don't.  Glass or ceramic instead.

3.  Buy and store food in glass, silicone, or foil.  Plastic codes 3,6 and 7 are the worst.  If you do use plastic containers, opt for codes 1 and 2.  But still don't reheat anything in them. Ever. 

4.  Eat as much fresh food as possible. Even canned foods are lined with plastics.  You can take reusable cloth bags to the grocery store to hold your vegetables instead of the plastic bags in the vegetable section.    

5.   Clean up dust in your home.  Vacuum and wipe dust up. It has a lot of microparticles in it.

6.   Act.  Join local groups that encourage zero-waste behaviors.  Help Upstream, a nonprofit working to create reusable takeout packaging.  Vote. Lobby.  It matters to you and your grandchildren.  Trust the science we see playing out.  It's not a joke.  

Pop Quiz

1.   Name one problem with plastics.     Answer: They break down to microparticles that can soak up PCBs and other environmental toxins.

2.   Ok, now name another.   Answer:  We think we have gotten rid of BPA with our attention to its problems, but we find it has been replaced with other bisphenols like -F and -S.  These are all endocrine disruptors.

3.   What do those endocrine disruptors do?   Answer: We haven't found all the problems but 10,000 excess cardiovascular deaths a year, infertility, loss of hearing........have all been associated.

4.   What might be the worst thing you can do to give yourself more plastics?    Answer: well, how about heating up your restaurant carryout in a plastic container with a 9 label on it?  (Until you melt part of it away)

5.   Can you name one behavior you might do differently regarding plastics?   Answer:  _________. Do it.