Monday, March 10, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, days 4-5, purging

Purging plastics
Continuing my lenten practice this season, I'm still working on the BPA-free eco-challenge from Northwest Earth Institute's book, "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet." This is where it gets particularly Lent-related because I worked on purging my kitchen of as many plastics as possible. The Environmental Working Group lists BPA as one of the "dirty dozen" of top endocrine disruptors (see below for definition), up there with lead, mercury and arsenic.

I actually didn't find any plastics in my kitchen the contained BPA, but the more I started looking into the effects of plastics on our bodies, the more I realized that it's not just BPA that's the problem. BPA is the most hazardous of the materials, but it's not the only one that can be harmful. A study in the July 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, "Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem that Can be Solved" (Vol. 119, No. 7, pp. 989-996) tested a wide variety of plastics (over 500 types) and concluded (as the title states) that most of them contain estrogenic chemicals that leach out when used normally. A major problem is that plastics manufacturers don't have to list all the additives in their products, presumably due to keeping their trade secrets safe. Many of these additives have "estrogenic activity" and are endocrine disruptors:
Chemicals that mimic or antagonize the actions of naturally occurring estrogens are defined as having estrogenic activity (EA), which is the most common form of endocrine disruptor activity. (989)
This is problematic because:
In mammals, chemicals having EA can produce many health-related problems, such as early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity, altered sex-specific behaviors, and increased rates of some breast, ovarian, testicular and prostate cancers. (989)
Fetuses and young children are most susceptible, but the EA can affect adults as well. These EA chemicals leach out most when the plastic is "stressed," which means fairly normal activities like if it's left in the sun, microwaved, exposed to boiling water or put in the dishwasher. The older the plastic is, the more likely it is to leach because it's been more exposed to those stressors.

Based on that data, I started to get rid of as much plastic in my kitchen as possible, regardless of whether it is BPA-free.

My general practice has been to reuse plastic containers and store things in them that I buy in bulk or that come in boxes with plastic bag liners that get annoying to keep in a cupboard (e.g. cereal or crackers). This seemed like a pretty good ecological practice: reusing containers that otherwise would get thrown away or recycled. While this is relatively correct, as I've been looking into the effects of plastics on our bodies, I've come to feel that this is perhaps not the best way to store food. Also, we used plastic dishes for our kids, to reduce dish breakage, but these are all now quite old and scratched, which makes them more susceptible to leakage of harmful chemicals into our food.

I rounded up all the glass jars sitting around in various storage locations, waiting to be filled with this summer's canned goods, and I stored my dry goods in them instead, for now. I was thinking I might go to thrift stores and collect glass and ceramic containers in the future so I can reuse the canning jars for canning. I can also start collecting glass containers, such as those pasta sauce jars you see in the picture, and reusing them. But for now, the picture shows a couple shelves of dry and canned goods. You can see that it's a work in progress: there are still some plastic containers because I ran out of jars.

Also, much to my chagrin, I noted in my last post that most metal cans actually have a plastic (epoxy) coating! I'm not sure what to do about this yet. Some of the things I get as canned food is more out of laziness anyway, such as cooked or refried beans, which would be fairly easy to make from dried beans and store in glass.

You'll be happy to note that hardly any of these plastics actually contained BPA. All of the containers and dishes in the first picture were made from the "safe" plastics: #1, #2, #4 or #5. All of my Tupperware-like containers are from these safer numbers as well, and for the moment I'm keeping those, for lack of better storage containers for leftovers and for frozen foods.

The one thing I did find that was one of the dangerous numbers was my box of plasticware, which is #6. This number doesn't contain BPA, but it contains another harmful chemical, polystyrene, which is an endocrine disruptor/exhibiting estrogen activity (disrupts your hormone system, as stated above, by acting like the hormone estrogen, and causing your hormonal system to react in strange ways including developing reproductive issues and/or cancer cells). So these plastic forks, spoons and knives that we put directly into our mouths are made from one of the worst type of plastic.

There were a few items in my kitchen that didn't have a number on them. There were a couple plastic bowls with no numbers. Some said they're made from melamine, which apparently is a kind of plastic that doesn't have any BPA but is probably on the same level as all the other plastics. I guess the fact that it doesn't have a recycling number means that it's not recyclable, though.

The one that surprised me and gave me pause was my Brita water filter. There are no numbers on it, and the whole thing is made of plastic. We drink water from the Brita filter because it's supposed to be better for us, right? But if all this about plastics leaching chemicals into food and drinks is true, are these filtration systems more helpful or harmful? If you just run water through a system attached to your faucet, even if it's plastic it might not be too bad since it doesn't sit in there for a long time. But what about these plastic pitchers?

I found another blogger who helpfully contacted both Brita and Pur to find out about the plastics used in their water pitchers and shared their responses. Both claim their pitchers are made from BPA-free plastics, but the numbers aren't listed because the pitchers can't be recycled. But, Brita's pitchers are made from polypropylene and styrene, the latter of which is supposed to be fairly harmful, and the pitcher itself is made from that type. Pur responded by listing the plastic numbers that would be on there if it could be recycled, which are #5, #6 and #7. #5 is OK, but #6 and #7 are more harmful.


Lotus said...

I used to keep up with this lady when she first was talking about her plastic-free life in 2007. Haven't read it in years, but I remember it being helpful to me.
The first thing I did when I moved here was overhaul D's plastic food storage collection and get us some nice glass lunch bento box-type thing. From FM. I was taught to never use a knife on a plastic (plate) that can scratch and to throw the plastic away as soon as it scratches and never heat it in any fashion. The person who taught me didn't give me a reason, but it was very important to her for her family, and I trusted her, so it was seared into my brain. This was 15 years ago, when I worked as a nanny.
Now it seems, I have shifted my focus to trying not to have the beams from my laptop beaming into my pelvis very many hours a day and not putting a toxic box up to my head everyday and keep said toxic box on my person in case someone decides to shoot me a text, that I can feel the buzz....Ha!

AND Please do. not. buy. glass jars. We have entirely too many, seriously, when do you need them? Also, yes, there is BPA in some canning jar lids. There are supposedly some brands that don't, but it's in the lining in the seal portion. The lid. I just never fill my jars that high with food when canning/ storage. It's me! LLD Peace!

Cherice Bock said...

Yay for more jars! I was also thinking of finding ones for different kinds of flour, etc., like different pottery ones or something.