07 March 2011

10 places where plastic continues to lurk in your life (long after you've given it the boot)

Oh great…another snoozeville article about the looming dangers of bisphenol A and why I should hate plastic 6000 times over. (You bet your sweet bippy it is.) Of course, this time, there’s gotta be a new angle. Hmmm, lemme guess what it’s gonna be…Ziplock bag hysteria?...Plastic wrap panic?? Are the caps on my various shampoos and conditioners leaching hair-loss chemicals into my brain?!?! (Although that would certainly explain a lot).

I know that we’re all burned out on the plastic theme, and many of us have already taken comprehensive measures to purge it from our households, so what more needs to be said? It’s bad for people and the environment. Got it. Time to move on to a new green cause.

If only it were that simple.

Even though the rigid plastic water bottles, unwieldy collections of #7 food storage containers, random canned goods and disposable cutlery once found in our cupboards may largely be but a distant memory, the fact remains that – somehow – the levels of bisphenol A in our blood are twice as high as what Canadians are exposed to (and that applies to an astounding 92.6% of the American population).

Nope. Not possible. Not only did I ditch all the BPA-plastics from my crib, I also purchased BPA-free upgrades….plus now I use a lot more glass and stainless steel than I ever did before. I’ve gotta be squeaky clean by now, or at the very least, I’m well on my way.

Okay fine…that’s a great first step.

We’ve all become acutely aware of the fact that prolonged exposure to BPA triggers some incredibly unwanted health issues in both laboratory animals and humans…things like compromised fetal brain and reproductive organ development, diabetes, heart disease, altered menstrual cycles, impaired fertility and cancer (of the prostate and breast). None of us want to play Russian Roulette with our health, so we’re all in agreement that the ubiquitous estrogen-mimicking chemical that forms the building block of myriad plastic-based items is not welcome in our homes.

And yet researchers recently determined that even a full 90% of the 450 BPA-free plastics currently on the market still generate estrogen-like effects in the human body. (**These items are available via such diverse retailers as Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.**) What that means is that while we can put a ‘bad guy face’ on bisphenol A, we might be wise to keep a watchful eye out for other plastic-based compounds that are equally as capable of doing a number on our bodies.

Here are some not-so-obvious ways that we’re all still being exposed to estrogen-mimicking plastic chemicals – even if we've made a conscious effort to incorporate far more eco-friendly alternatives into our households:


The typical automobile is made with approximately 260 pounds of plastic -- and if you’re a Chevy Volt owner, a portion of those parts are probably made out of recycled BP oil spill booms. The bad news is that whether you’re sitting in the passenger seat, clasping tightly to the steering wheel or cranking up the AC in the dead of summer, you’re exposed to plastic-plastic-plastic every time you go for a ride. Take a wild guess what your body's largest organ (your skin, silly) is doing in the midst of all of those chemicals...


From BPA-laden containers to the phthalate-rich ‘cleaning’ formulas within, typical mainstream fragrance-heavy products are filled with health-compromising plastic compounds (including those irresistibly scented mood-enhancing candles). To Glade, Ziplock, Windex and Shout manufacturer SC Johnson’s credit, at least they're phasing DEP phthalates out of their products and offering full ingredient disclosure in as little as one year...but the same can not be said of their competitors.


Despite being deemed safe for the transport of household drinking water, pipes made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) have been found to leach vinyl chloride, organotins and dioxins in drinking supplies, and unfortunately, those chemicals are collectively responsible for triggering varied health problems like memory loss, nervous system damage and liver cancer.


This alternative box-shaped packaging – manufactured by Tetra Pak -- may be billed as being eco-friendly due to its 70% sustainably harvested wood fiber content, but the safety of its interior polyethylene layer deserves a big question mark. Although its low-density status is deemed by the Aseptic Packaging Council to be phthalate-, BPA- and nonylophenol-free (as opposed to high density polyethylene, which typically leaches health-compromising chemicals), I’d feel far more comfortable if someone outside of the industry confirmed its safety, wouldn't you?


This synthetic material, derived from refined oil or made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottles, is often used to make such diverse items as mattresses, infant diapers, feminine hygiene supplies, and various fabrics such as Vycron, Dacron, Terylene, or Lycra. The major drawback is that the terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol necessary to synthesize polyester are both known carcinogens and once the resulting fabric makes contact with moist skin, endocrine-disrupting phytoestrogens are transferred.


If you are among the countless individuals who are vision-impaired or you happen to favor plastic-lensed sunglasses, the bad news – especially when you consider how hot it can get in the summertime – is that you are likely absorbing plastic chemicals through your skin every time you wear polycarbonate, biofocal or trifocal lenses. This scenario seems all the more scary for contact wearers who apply their vision correcting lenses directly to their eyes -- soft contact fans wear silicone hydrogel plastics, while hard lenses fans wear silicone acrylate.


The moment saliva comes into contact with each new white filling or cavity-preventing sealant that your dentist puts in your mouth, guess what happens? Your body will most likely experience a BPA spike that is 88 times higher than what you normally receive from daily plastic exposure – but take heart (I think), because levels reduce roughly 3 hours later.


Impossible. They’re made out of cardboard, not plastic. True...but the post-consumer paperboard that forms the foundation of the familiar rectangular brown box is actually made with a recycled slurry of endocrine-disrupting, BPA-coated thermal paper receipts, toilet paper, newspapers, etc.


Compact discs are made of bisphenol A-laden #7 polycarbonate plastic (which releases toxins when heated), while CD cases are composed of #6 polystyrene plastic (which contains carcinogenic benzene). Good grief...there goes my music habit. I guess this is as good a reason as any to go digital!


With widespread plastic pollution a reality throughout the gyres of our global oceans, there are now small plastic bits dispersed “at concentrations ranging from .01 to .50 parts per million” -- but it’s likely that polyurethane-based ship resins have also contributed to the massive environmental time bomb of marine-based BPA contamination.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/robom8