Sunday, May 3, 2020

How much plastic are you eating?

Are you eating plastic every day?  Most people have never even thought about how much plastic they are consuming each day, each week, each month.  Consumer Reports has a great article, How to Eat Less Plastic .  In the article it notes, “Each of us might ingest up to a credit card’s worth of plastic weekly through food and water”.   Kind of alarming since most of us never think about eating plastic and that we might be getting plastic in the foods we eat and from the water we drink.

How much plastic are we ingesting?

Besides the credit card reference, an article in Environmental Science & Technology, discussed “Human Consumption of Microplastics”.  They estimate that our annual consumption of microplastics from foods and drinking water “ranges from 39000 to 52000 particles”.  Those of us who rely on water from plastic bottles ingest another 90000 microplastics each year.  Interestingly, even those who consume only tap water consume 4000 microplastic particles each year.  

Where is the plastic in our food and water coming from?  What are the ways we can cut back on ingesting to much plastic?

      1. Bottled water – so many people grab a plastic water bottle and forgo drinking tap water thinking bottled water is healthier.  Consumer Reports recommends going back to drinking the tap water.  Although tap water surprisingly has some microplastics, you get almost twice the microplastics from water in plastic bottles as you do from tap water.  And CDC notes bottled water “may not have a sufficient amount of fluoride, which is important for preventing tooth decay and promoting oral health”.  Parents, especially, may want to be sure their kids drink tap water to ensure their kids are getting enough fluoride.  
My daughters like to drink sparkling water.  Luckily, the brand they like comes in cans, not plastic bottles.  I like Perrier and am disappointed that more and more this brand comes in plastic bottles when it always used to come only in glass bottles or cans. 
But not just bottled water – so much of our liquids come in plastic.  Orange juice used to come in glass bottles.  Now it comes in plastic.  I think our family will switch to orange juice in the carton.  Hopefully, safer but not clear it is.  Milk used to be glass bottles or cardboard and now many milk containers are plastic. 
Buy water in glass bottles, not plastic bottles.
2.  Heating leftovers – reach for a glass container and not a plastic container when heating up foods in the microwave.  And don’t put your plastic containers in the dishwasher.  I never do, but many people do.  Consumer Reports notes the high heat of the dishwasher can leach chemicals from the plastic.
Use glass containers to store and reheat food.

      3. Avoid buying foods wrapped in plastic and store foods like leftovers in glass containers, not plastic containers or use aluminum foil to wrap leftovers.  

      4. Eat fresh foods – fresh fruit, fresh vegetables that haven’t been wrapped in plastic.  Avoid all those snack and processed foods wrapped in plastic containers.  Lays’ chips like Sun Chips aren’t wrapped in plastic and seem to be a better snack choice.  Lays’ used to comment on their packaging, but I couldn’t find it on their web site.  But chips like Sun Chips are healthier because they add whole grains to your day.

How can the plastic we are eating affect our health?

Chemicals leach into food – the plastics contain many chemicals.  One of which, phthalates, can leach into the foods we eat that are packaged in plastic.  This is especially true if one warms up food in plastic containers like popping some leftovers in the microwave to reheat them but using a plastic container to do so.  BPA is a chemical that can leach into water from plastic water bottles.  Plastic food packages made from styrene is another chemical that can leach into our foods.  Researchers are studying the harmful effects of these chemicals on the human body.  The chemicals BPA and phthalates have been found to be hormone disruptors.  Consumers have been concerned about BPA and many manufacturers have removed BPA from their products. But Consumer Reports note, the chemicals some manufacturers are using to replace BPA, may be just as harmful.  So, BPA free, may not mean the plastic has no harmful health effects. 

How can you break free from plastic this week?  Most of us would find it hard to get all the plastics out of our lives, but most of us can find ways to cut back on our use of plastics.  What are some ways you can cut down on plastic packages and containers?

Are cartons safer than plastic?
Sources:  How to Eat Less Plastic, article, CDC , Perrier   Illustrations:  glass , containers   , juice   

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