We’ve written before about the impact that our plastic consumption is having on the environment. But there’s also a growing body of research that is highlighting the harmful effects of plastic on people.
How plastic harms people
It has been found that different plastics contain and excrete chemicals that are harmful to the environment, animals and humans. This is going to get a little technical but the main takeaway is that chemicals released from plastics have been found to cause hormone imbalances, which is bad news for us.
The problem with phthalates
Phthalates can best be described as ‘plastic softeners’ and are used to make plastic less brittle. Commonly, they are not tightly bound to other molecules in the plastic so they can easily make their way into us. They are found in toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing, and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes and other fragrance preparations.
Research has shown that certain phthalates are endocrine disruptors, the endocrine system of hormones being a highly complex system important for controlling respiration, metabolism and sexual development. Phthalates have been linked to an increased likelihood of respiratory conditions such as asthma in infants, as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The problem with BPA
BPA plastic, the kind that a lot of food containers and water bottles are made from, contains bisphenol A (hence the name). From research into marine animals, BPA has been found to disrupt hormones in a variety of ways, for example as an estrogen imitator, blocking other sex hormones, and disrupting the thyroid hormone system. Research with other animals has also indicated adverse reproductive development in sperm and eggs.
When it comes to humans, BPA exposure has been correlated with an increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and childhood obesity and impaired neurological development. (source).
PVC may just be the worst
PVC contains a lot of harmful chemicals such as phthalates, chlorides, dioxins, VOCs, lead and cadmium. These are released in production, or evaporate or leach off over time, ending up inside of us.
Ocean plastic picks up extra toxins
A lot of the plastic we discard ends up in our oceans. On its way there, it can actually absorb toxins from other sources. When the plastic breaks down into microplastics and is consumed by marine life it then makes its way up the food chain, becoming more concentrated, and into us.
So, all the more reason to avoid plastics. Research is still ongoing that links the chemicals found in plastic to human health conditions, but the signs are not good and it’s recommended to decrease exposure, particularly for children.
How to reduce your plastic exposure
Plastic is everywhere. Think about what you have consumed or come into contact with already today. Which of those products were made of or packaged in plastic? Odds are even products you don’t think contain plastic actually do. But it’s still possible to reduce your exposure by:
- Avoid storing food in plastic containers, especially when microwaving. Use glass, ceramic or metal instead.
Carry a stainless steel reusable drinks bottle to hold drinks.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid plastic wrapping.