Two Big Issues with Plastic Use
The first issue, off-gassing.
New car smell. You know that characteristic smell and that of a new shower curtain or plastic doll. You may be smelling the sweet, mild smell of vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Short-term exposures can cause dizziness and headaches, while long-term exposures can cause liver damage, cancer, and reproductive effects. The smell tends to go away over time.
The polymers (long chains of molecules) that make up soft plastics are more likely to have unreacted monomers (single, unchained molecules). Outgassing happens as unreacted chemical monomers are released. Once the unreacted monomers are released, the smell is more mild or even undetectable.
We get used to the smell and even crave it to trigger memory. What else could explain the desire to buy “New car smell spray”? Some people sniff glue, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Vinyl research is extensive, and research on other soft plastics is building. We’ve trained ourselves to crave what is harming us.
In the case of outgassing, there is no further chemical reaction necessary to release the toxins since they are not chained to the polymers. We might detect their release as smell, or they might leach into our water from plastic single-use water bottles or plastic linings of reusable water bottles.
The second issue, chemical reactions changing the plastic.
Unreacted chemicals in plastics can be released, but there can also be new reactions that change the plastics and allow the release of further toxins. Putting an acidic food like tomatoes in a plastic lined metal can will create a reaction. BPA (bisphenol A), a plastic chemical that “functions like a synthetic estrogen,” has been found in canned foods. This is the endocrine disruption that has been in the news for years. Unsafe levels of BPA are also found in 1 of 3 cans of infant formula.
Another issue, closely related to the second, radiation.
If you leave plastic water in the car in the sun, microwave food in plastic containers, or leave plastic toys in the yard, there could be a reaction between the ultraviolet light or the radiation and the plastic. Heating plastic can degrade the chemical bond. That chemical reaction could then leave toxins in the plastic that can be released.
In a microwave, the particular dangers come with fatty foods cooked at high temperatures. Even the most conservative advice urges us not to let plastics, like thin plastic wrap, touch foods in the microwave.
These are only a few of the possibilities. Frankly, like so many toxic situations in our world, it’s overwhelming. But, the point of today’s post is to consider eco baby steps.
The U.S. CPSIA bans six phthalates in children’s products, three permanently and three pending further review. Those plastic chemicals banned are prohibited in children’s toys and child-care articles, which includes feeding, sleeping, and sucking.
Following this logic, I’ve divided products into three areas to discuss plastic-free alternatives: feeding, sleeping, and toys. Today, feeding. Sleeping and toys will follow in the next two days.
Easy Plastic-free Changes
The easiest changes we can make are to switch to plastic-free products that do much the same thing as the plastic products that have become so common over the past half century. There is little lifestyle change required to make a switch to plastic-free feeding products.
Some of the choices for babies and children are the same for the whole family. The changes we have made in the past couple of years are: have milk delivered in glass bottles, use glass containers for leftovers, and buy more products, especially ALL tomato products, in glass jars. Our county recycles all clear glass, and, though we don’t have curbside pick-up, we make a monthly visit to our recycling center to drop off everything we have collected.
The switch to glass is easy. Before there was plastic, there was glass. When plastic is banned, glass will still be with us.
ByNature.ca already carries glass baby bottles, and glass baby food jars are coming soon. Despite calling them “baby food jars,” these small glass containers (the big photo at the top of the post) are perfect for holding spices, cake decorating supplies, or small amounts of leftovers.
For serving, stainless steel is a great option because a child can drop it, and it won’t break like glass or ceramics can. ByNature.ca has a big variety of cups, dishes, and feeding accessories in stainless steel, including a cool divided tray in the shape of a bus. The one thing that really surprised me the first time I saw it was a stainless steel straw. Brilliant!
Another easy way to avoid plastic while dining out is to carry flatware with you. When I built my 72-hour bug-out bag of essentials, I saw a huge collection of different kinds of travel flatware. Some of them were camping utensils that hook all together, which can be a convenient way to keep from losing the occasional spoon in the bottom of your bag, but I choose a heavier set that came in its own snapping case. After I use and wipe down the utensils, I can just tuck them in their case and take them home to clean the utensils and the case. You don’t have to be so fancy. Just throw a few sets of flatware in a reusable cloth bag like the Planet Wise mini wet/dry bag, which is just the right size and can handle any mess you tuck into it.
Those are a few, simple first steps to take, but this is still a STUFF-oriented approach. After covering sleeping products and toys this week, I will follow with further steps at the end of June in our second week of focus on plastic.