Guest blog - an introduction from Sam Hadadi followed by more detailed article from Vicky Ware,
From utensils to bottles, food packaging and that lunchbox favourite, clingfilm, plastics are a huge part of our everyday lives. Yet more and more, we’re being inundated with stories about how they can cause diseases, affect our health and harm both the planet and our four-legged friends.
Slowly but surely and thanks in part to studies and research like that below - we’re starting to wake up to the damage that plastic may be doing. Yet, given all this, it makes it all the more terrifying when you think how much we’re using, without even realising it.
You see, endless studies have linked these plastics to all sorts of problems and some scientists even believe that they could be damaging our kids’ health, too! When you look at it like that, why wouldn’t you want to bin the plastic for good?
Of course, there’s always a way out and there are so many things you at home can be doing to cut down on the plastics you’re using. Want to know more? Here are some easy steps you can follow to cut it out of your life, forever:
Avoid Processed Foods
Oh, those processed foods – so bad for our body, in so many ways! Yet not only are they full of all sorts of junk but they’re also often wrapped up in plastic packaging.
This means those easy, breezy microwavable meals are out the window – sorry! – and homecooked meals, made completely from scratch, are in. And if you really do need to buy ready-food, then be sure to avoid using plastic containers labeled on the bottom with the numbers 3, 6 or 7 (inside the recycle symbol), as these contain nasty chemicals such as phthalates.
To avoid this problem, it helps to buy food packaged in glass jars rather than plastic ones (this is one of the inspirations behind our very own Lucy Bee packaging!) and aim to use cleaning products that come in boxes.
Use Reuseable or Cloth Shopping Bags
Happily, the 5p charge on all plastic bags is giving us a helping hand in this department. However, it stills pays to remember to arm yourselves with a bag for life whenever you’re doing your shopping.
If you’re a little forgetful (we’ve all been there), try popping a couple of cloth bags inside each handbag, in your car boot, or underneath your pushchair, if you’re a mum!
Ditch Bottled Water
Plastic bottles are bad for the environment. Ever seen a picture of bottles littering beaches and seas? Avoid this by filling your own (non-plastic bottle) with filtered tap water – your wallet will be thanking you, too!
Wear Natural Clothes
Many clothes are made from polyester and contain bits of plastics. Worryingly, washing them will cause the fibres to fall off, causing them to end up in seas across the planet. We probably don’t need to tell you that this can cause all sorts of harm to the oceans and the beautiful, wonderful creatures living in it. Want to avoid this? We’d suggest filling your wardrobe with natural materials, such as cotton, instead!
Use Baking Paper or Tin Foil
All too often, clingfilm is our kitchen go-to for everything from lunchboxes to leftovers. However, a simple way to cut down on the amount of plastic you use is to store foods in wax (baking paper) and tin foil, or glass jars/boxes instead!
For further in-depth information on recent research, see Vicky Ware's article below:
Worries about health can be overwhelming. If you start reading health related news stories it seems that everything is out to kill you. With that in mind I’m going to start this post with a dose of perspective — humans in the UK currently have the highest life expectancy they have ever had, 81 years for men and 83 years for women born in 2016, based on current trends.
Now let’s talk about plastics. I’ve touched on the fact that a component of plastic known as BPA can be bad for health before, when talking about kitchen utensils in another blog post.
BPA is a hormone disruptor, mimicking oestrogen in the body. It’s been shown to affect child and embryo development, lower fertility and alter reproductive organ development in mammals1, 2. One study has even shown that women who have the more BPA in their system are more likely to have a miscarriage than women with less BPA3.
Oestrogen mimicking chemicals like BPA which leach from plastics have numerous other effects; early onset puberty in women, reduced sperm count in men, changes to reproductive organs, obesity, increased chance of breast, ovarian, testicular and prostate cancer4. Although many of the studies showing these effects are done in animals, not humans, the mechanisms behind them are similar in all vertebrates meaning scientists are fairly confident the effects will be similar in humans4.
The European Food Safety Authority states that there is no risk to human health from exposure to BPA at the levels we’re exposed to it in everyday life5. The scientific community have however questioned this view6.
Regardless, because of these issues with BPA, many plastics are now BPA free and the use of BPA is banned in a number of countries. Drinking bottles, plastic tubs and anything that comes into contact with food often advertises itself as such to suggest it is safe to drink or eat out of it. The problem now seems to be that the chemical used to replace BPA, bisphenol S or BPS, seems to be affecting hormones in a similar way to BPA7.
BPS was supposed to be less likely to leach out of plastics than BPA, which is why it was thought to be safer. The fact that 81% of American’s tested have BPS in their urine suggests this isn’t the case 4;8.
Studies have shown that even tiny amounts of BPS can impact the way a cell functions — in ways that could be leading to the known associations with metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes. There are also links with asthma, birth defects and cancer8.
One of the major worries surrounding BPA, and now BPS, is its impact on development of embryos and the young. A recent study on zebra fish found the levels of BPS and BPA required to affect animal development are low — equivalent to levels found in polluted river water9.
This study also found BPA and BPS specifically impact areas of the fishes brain associated with fertility and puberty — fish that were exposed to BPS when embryos were less fertile when older8. The fish exposed to BPS also had a 240% increase in the rate at which their neurones developed — worse than the 170% increase seen with exposure to BPA. The fish with this increased neuronal development went on to be hyperactive adults, suggesting a long term impact8.
BPA was associated with cardiac problems and it seems BPS might have similar characteristics. A study in rats found that females exposed to BPA and BPS develop heart arrhythmias. This was only seen in female mice. Researchers discovered this was because the heart problems are caused by BPA binding to an oestrogen receptor only found in females10.
Professor Cheryl Watson is a scientist studying the impact of chemicals such as BPA and BPS on hormones and cells, working at the University of Texas Medical Branch in the USA. In an interview with Chemistry World magazine11 she explained, “The problem is that whenever they come up with a BPA substitute, nobody checks with a biologist to see what it actually does before they put it in a product. A lot of these chemicals are disrupting the actions of hormones.”
Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a system where the people who make new chemicals collaborate with people who can tell if the chemicals are going to be safe. Instead, new chemicals are released into the world and if something really bad starts happening we look at which chemical might be causing it. It’s not that this is the official plan — there isn’t an official plan, and that’s the problem.
Although some groups (predictably, these tend to be those groups who make the chemicals or who could be to blame if it turned out the chemicals were bad for health) argue that humans are exposed to much lower levels of BPA and BPS than a fish swimming in polluted water, the issue may be that we are exposed to those lower levels every day for decades. No study has yet looked into the impact of this type of exposure, mainly because the kind of funding given to studies tends to be short term. There are very few studies that monitor the impact of anything over decades.
Not only will you reduce your exposure to the chemicals that leach from plastic, the environment will thank you too. Not only is plastic not biodegradable, BPS has proven to be less biodegradable than BPA16.
Also remember that as a consumer, you have power. Every time you buy something, you vote for the kind of product you want to see on the market. Buy products packaged in glass and more products will get packaged in glass.
If you want to reduce your exposure and your children to BPA and BPS cut down the amount of plastic you use. Glass jars, glass bottles and wooden chopping boards are all alternatives to plastic. Plastic was only invented in 1907 so clearly we can live without it. Again, you can read my kitchen utensils health check guide if you want information on the alternatives.
Vicky has a degree in Biological Sciences with a focus on biochemistry and immunology and is currently studying for a MSc in Drug Discovery and Protein Biotechnology. She is also an endurance athlete. References
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