Why Plastic Is Bad For You and Your Family
Did you know that disposable plastic bags take a second to make but last for a thousand years? On World Environment Day, take a pledge that you and your kids will weed out plastic from your house
By Maya Martens • 10 min read
Plastics are everywhere! Look around your home ̶ could you picture your day-to-day life without plastic? Plastics can be used to make anything. They are cheaper than most other materials and dangerously convenient. They have driven technological advancements in health care, transport, and food safety. These properties have transformed our lives and allowed plastics to become one of the most widely used materials on the planet.
Yet these benefits have come at a cost.
Our use of plastics is negatively impacting our climate, affecting animals, causing environmental pollution and even changing the way our bodies work by affecting our hormones.
In this article, discover more about the ‘unsafe’ and ‘safer’ plastics and learn tips on how to make your home plastic-free. Make small changes so your family becomes part of the solution rather than active contributors to plastic pollution!
What are plastics?
Plastics are made from oil or gas. Oil or gas is processed (refined) to make fuel for transport and even LPG for cooking. Through this refining process, ethylene and propylene are removed. These by-products are the building blocks to make plastics. This is one of the main reasons why plastic is so cheap compared to any other material on the planet.
If you really want to learn more about different plastics, you will need to learn the resin codes.
- Resin codes are numbered 1 to 7 and placed in a three chasing arrows triangle.
- They are usually accompanied by an acronym of that plastic type.
- These almost ‘secret’ codes are often difficult to find and hidden on the bottom or label of a plastic item.
The unsafe resin codes: avoid #3, #6, and #7
It is important to know that some plastics are safer than others to use. Many of the chemical additives used to produce certain types of plastics, are toxic to our health, animals and the environment.
Resin codes #3 PVC, #6 PS and #7 OTHER (PC and ABS) are considered ‘unsafe’ plastics.
- PVC (resin code #3): Contains heavy metals (lead and cadmium) that make it stronger and last longer outdoors when exposed to sunlight. PVC that is flexible (like footwear, pool toys and hosepipes) has the highest percentage of a class of toxic additives called phthalates.
- PS (resin code #6) and ABS (resin code #7) are made with benzene and styrene. Benzene and styrene are dangerous chemicals linked to cancer by the IARC.
- PC (resin code #7) uses a toxic additive called Bisphenol A (BPA). Studies have linked this additive to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, abnormal brain development, cancer and asthma. Replacement additives in PC plastic-like BPS or BPF are just as bad.
The science behind why they are unsafe
BPA and other additives (like phthalates) are Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs). These influence your body by blocking, copying or stopping the production of hormones. Hormones flow through your blood and act as messengers in your body. They control the way your cells and organs work. They influence your body, mood, height, weight, and how you develop and grow. Scientists have found that even small amounts of EDCs are bad for your health in the long term.
What can you do to stop plastic pollution?
Imagine for a moment that you come home and discover a running tap has soaked the floor.
What would you do first? Start mopping up the water or close the tap?
It is clear all of us would first close the tap even before we would consider mopping. This is reflected in the leading waste management strategy – the waste hierarchy.
The science is clear. Only ‘mopping’ is not a solution!
We cannot recycle our way out of this challenge either. Every time plastic is melted and recycled, it loses quality. The process is appropriately called ‘downcycling’ as the plastic you put in your recycling bin will never come back to you as the same product. If you are lucky, your plastic water bottle might be recycled into a low-quality food container and then finally turned into polyester fibres for clothing. Two or three cycles of use are the absolute best-case scenario. But in reality, 60 per cent of PET bottles never get recycled or downcycled even once.
Start a positive change this Environment Day by closing the tap on your plastic waste!
Checklist: 5 tips to make your house plastic-free
1. Reusable bags
What type of shopping bags do you use at home? The next time a shopkeeper offers you a disposable plastic bag say no and bring your reusable cloth or jute bag instead. One reusable bag ‘closes the tap’ on 700 plastic bags!
2. Stainless steel and glass water bottles
Replace plastic water bottles in your home with stainless steel and glass water bottles. These can be used repeatedly, are safe to use (as they do not have nasty EDC’s) and produce less waste (because glass and stainless steel can be truly recycled and not downcycled).
3. Plastic-free kitchen
Find plastic items that come into contact with food or drinks that are hot, oily, spicy or acidic and replace these items with safer alternatives such as stainless steel, ceramic or glass. Remember that plastic resin codes #3 PVC, #6 PS and #7 OTHER (PC and ABS) are ‘unsafe’ for your family. Other plastics are ‘safer’ but companies may use additives which are EDCs and have no legal obligation to let you know.
4. Reusable items for food
The next time you have a picnic, celebrate your birthday or pick up a take-away meal choose to reuse. Opt for reusable items (cups, plates, cutlery, straws and food storage containers) made from stainless steel, glass, or ceramic. These are not only safe for your family, but studies show that this switch can reduce up to 88% of Green House Gases, air pollutants and water consumption. Do you want to check out more eco-friendly activities for your children? Read this. Want to know more?
Are you interested in your children learning more about plastics? Do you want to unleash a generation of young problem solvers to tackle the planet’s plastic problem? We at WasteLess, with the support of Sastraprakasika trust, are thrilled to announce a new educational programme called kNOw PLASTICS – an 8-Lesson Innovative Programme that integrates the latest scientific research on plastics. Using a memory game to keep learning fun, this experiential learning programme targets children class 1-8. Check http://wastelessindia.org/know-plastics/
The author is key member of the WasteLess team and the lead in content development for the kNOw PLASTICS educational programme. She has been an active part of the in-depth research, game development, user testing and feedback integration for the past 28 months. WasteLess is based in Auroville and focuses on educating the next generation so they have the tools, skills, and knowledge to address humanity's most dirty problem — waste!
About the author:
Written by Maya Martens on 03 June 2018.
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