Thursday, March 06, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, day 2, addicted to plastic

Plastics to recycle or throw away after a trip to the store
Yesterday I shared about my lenten practice this year: working each week on an eco-challenge from a workbook by Northwest Earth Institute, "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet." I may not (probably won't) post something every day, but today I have a bit of time and I've been thinking about the first eco-challenge and how difficult it is.

This week's eco-challenge is to eat a BPA-free meal, or eat BPA-free for a whole day, or even for the whole week. BPA stands for bisphenol A, a plastic additive that is linked to a range of health issues.

Plastic containers for recycling
It's nice to think about eating BPA-free meals, but in assessing my habits and the ways foods are packaged, this is a lot harder than it sounds! I went shopping today and came home with a pile of plastics that went in the trash or recycling, and I also had several containers that were used and recycled throughout the day. Also, I took my reusable bags, but ended up with more groceries than bags and had to use a few plastic ones. I'm not sure whether all these types of plastic use BPA yet--I need to do some research. But whether or not they use BPA, many of them can't be recycled (or recycling them isn't supported in my/most area(s), and so there is SO MUCH trash going to landfills each day. This may not be as much of a current health hazard to us, but can't be good as we think long-term into the future of our kids and grandkids.

Of all these plastics, only one said that it was BPA-free: the Langer's apple juice bottle.

Many of these products are organic. The milk was rBST-free; the yogurts and peanut butter touted their organic ingredients.

I got some Annie's products, and the boxes were made from post-consumer waste and had little windmills that showed they were produced using sustainable energy, but there was nothing on the packaging that mentioned what kind of plastic was used and whether or not it contained BPA. (I did notice on their website, however, that they say less than 1% of packaging, by weight, is plastic--but of course plastic bags don't weigh very much! I just sent them a comment to ask them about whether their plastic uses BPA.)

I had some Stoneyfield Yo-Baby yogurt, USDA organic ingredients with no hormones, pesticides or genetically modified foods (although why they feel the need to put sugar in baby yogurt is beyond me!), so all the ingredients were "healthy" but the packaging didn't mention what it was made of. Also, when I fill up the sink with hot water from the tap, the containers shrivel, making me wonder how safe that particular plastic is and how much of it leeches into my kiddos as they're eating the product. (I sent them a comment, too--we'll see if I learn anything in the next few days.)

Even at home it's hard to not put things in plastic. I have plastic containers to store leftovers, and I reuse large plastic jars to store things like rice, crackers, cereal and quinoa. I send things to school in plastic containers in my son's lunch. Even the dishes my kids eat off are plastic, so they won't break if (when) they drop them. Though we try to reuse Ziplock bags, they still are made of plastic.

I do try to avoid microwaving things in plastic or pouring boiling water into plastic, but at times I do pour boiling water over frozen food to thaw it enough to get it out of the plastic container. This probably destroys all the health benefits of storing away my local, organic produce for use in the winter!

So today, perhaps I'm on the first step of the 12-steps to recovery program: recognizing I have a problem. I'm addicted to plastic.

The second step is to "believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." I guess that's what Lent is all about, right? It's about re-orienting ourselves in such a way that we recognize our own weaknesses, our own powerlessness to do anything about it, and the fact that God has already done what needs to be done, all we have to do is follow. Might this extend to plastic addictions? Do we have the ability to trust that God is the God even of plastics manufacturing and the structure of our culture's food system? Do we have the audacity to imagine a different way, and to let God imagine it into existence through our lives?

New goal: eat a meal tomorrow where none of my family members eat off plastic dishes that contain BPA, or about which I don't know if they contain BPA.

Second new goal: research the ways that BPA harms us. Is it through direct contact between the food and the plastic? Is it through trash breaking down and getting into our water, and other avenues that it can enter the food system? What are the major types of plastic-to-food leakage to avoid? What kind of plastics contain BPA?


Anonymous said...

I left a comment answering some of your questions here, just from what I know. And why do you think that shriveling plastic is a greater danger than non-shriveling plastic? Just wondering.

pjulius said...

This might be of interest to you.

Cherice Bock said...

Hey LauraL! (I don't think I'm going to get used to that. I like Lotus. =)

I guess I feel like if plastic breaks down that easily in hot water (not even boiling water!), it must not have that much integrity--as in, it probably doesn't keep all its stuff to itself. It may be OK as long as I don't microwave it and eat the food in it, but I don't know, it just makes me nervous.

On the other hand, what do I know? If it's the hard plastics that are generally worse, maybe it's the stuff that makes them hard that's the problem, and I should go for softer plastics, I don't know! I'm learning here.

Cherice Bock said...

Thanks, Paul! I'll check out the TED talk--I love TED talks. But right now is probably not the best I'll save it for tomorrow.