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Plastics - Protect Yourself
“A host of poisonous chemicals are imbedded in plastic that are unstable, causing genetic damage and resultant disease.” Many of us are familiar with such statements about plastic. But plastic is everywhere, from protective headgears for athlete and our children, too a plastic heart valve placed in a patient chest, and who of us haven’t watched a video or listen to a CD? Better yet, how many of us have at least one Tupperware product in our home? My point, plastic is everywhere; the list can go on, plastic water bottles, baby bottles, and food containers.
For many of the world's population, plastic provides enormous benefit and makes life easier. However, there are both environmental and health risks from the widespread use of plastics. Since plastic affects us everyday and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and the environment from the health hazard plastic can impose.
An example of taking safety measure- NASA banned the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in space capsules because of toxic fumes. So what is polyvinyl chloride? it is a tasteless, odorless and insoluble in most organic solvents. A member of the family vinyl resin, used in soft flexible films for food packaging and in molded rigid products, such as pipes, fibers, upholstery, and bristles. Polyvinyl chloride is the worst plastic, the toxic plastic, poses risks to both the environment and human health. PVC is also the least recyclable plastic.
Environmental problems: Most plastics are made from petroleum, a non-renewable and mostly imported resource. Plastic packaging also creates unnecessary waste. Although plastic is lightweight, it is bulky, so it takes up a large volume of landfill space.
Health risks: Use of plastics in cooking and food storage can carry health risks, especially when hormone-disrupting chemicals from some plastics leach into foods and beverages. Plastic manufacturing and incineration creates air and water pollution and exposes workers to toxic chemicals.
Health concerns, food and plastics
A myriad of petroleum-based chemicals go into the manufacture of plastics. Some can leach into food and drinks and possibly impact human health. Leaching increases when plastic comes in contact with oily or fatty foods, during heating and from old or scratched plastic. Types of plastics shown to leach toxic chemicals are polycarbonate, PVC and styrene. This does not imply that other plastics are entirely safe. These plastics have just been studied more.
If you have to use plastic in cooking and heating your food or beverage, use only 4, 5, 1 and 2. Avoid all the rest they aren’t good for you. Plastic codes can be found on bottom of plastic containers.
Avoid for food
PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene, used for soft drink, juice, water, detergent, cleaner and peanut butter containers.
HDPE: High-density polyethylene, used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles and some plastic bags.
PVC or V: Polyvinyl chloride, used for cling wrap, some plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles.
LDPE: Low density polyethylene, used in grocery store bags, most plastic wraps and some bottles.
PP: Polypropylene, used in most Rubbermaid, deli soup, syrup and yogurt containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles.
PS: Polystyrene, used in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, carryout containers and opaque plastic cutlery.
Other: Usually polycarbonate, used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic cutlery. New bio-based plastics may also be labeled #7.
Tips for safer plastics
Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave.
Since chemicals are released from plastic when heated, it’s safest not to microwave food and drinks in plastic containers. Instead use glass containers. If you do microwave in plastic, use only plastic labeled “microwave safe.” Note that “microwave safe” does not mean that there is no leaching of chemicals. Avoid using for fatty foods, as there is greater leaching of chemicals into fatty foods.
Beware of cling wraps especially for microwave use.
Instead use waxed paper or paper towel for covering foods. If you do use plastic, don’t let the plastic touch the food. For plastic-wrapped deli foods, slice off a thin layer where the food came in contact with the plastic and rewrap in non-PVC plastic wrap or place in a container.
Use alternatives to plastic packaging whenever possible.
Use refillable containers at your local food cooperative. Bring you own take-home containers to restaurants. Bring reusable bags or cardboard boxes to the grocery store. Use glassware to heat your food.
Plastic water bottles, take precautions
If you use a polycarbonate water bottle, to reduce leaching of BPA, do not use for warm or hot liquids and discard old or scratched bottles. Water bottles from #1 or #2 plastics are recommended for single use only. For all types of plastic, you can reduce bacterial contamination by thoroughly washing daily. However, avoid using harsh detergents that can break down the plastic and increase chemical leaching.
Discard old, scratched polycarbonate baby bottles and “sippy” cups. Heat foods and drinks outside of the plastic and then transfer into the plastic only after they are cool enough to eat or drink.
ANY PLASITIC that shows signs of wear—such as scratches or a cloudy, crackled appearance—more readily leaches chemicals and needs to be discarded right away. Scratches can also harbor bacteria.
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