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Problematic Plastics

Plastic has inserted itself into just about every part of modern day living. Take a moment to glance around you and notice the plastic that surrounds you. I’m sitting in chair made mostly of the stuff, ticking away at a keyboard, and staring at a shiny screen that wouldn’t exist without the plastics that have made so many innovations possible and cost effective.

As tempting as it would be to vilify all plastic as toxic filth that should be banned from our lives entirely, it does have its place in the electronics we rely on in this age to communicate, inform, entertain, and educate. Where would these words go if it weren’t for plastic? How big would my audience be if only the wealthiest could afford the heavy metal and glass computers and cell phones? Maybe that would have been a better world, but it didn’t happen so we must make the best of what we have.

There is one role plastics have come to fill that should be vilified and banned. Plastics should have no place in food. Unfortunately, plastic seems to have taken to this part too well. It surrounds bread, lines tin cans, holds drinking water, and is wrapped around just about every food imaginable. We even tear off plastic in the produce aisle to “protect” our fresh fruits and vegetables from the cart, one another, and other food. Then we serve our food on plastic plates, fill up plastic pitchers, use plastic utensils, and drink from plastic glasses.

What is plastic and how did we come to trust it so? Most plastics are made up of organic polymers. Don’t let the “organic” fool you, these are synthetic or semisynthetic compounds derived from petroleum based products like natural gas, coal, and oil. Even the bioplastics, those derived from grown products such as sugar cane or corn, are not guaranteed to be biodegradable and are still highly processed semisynthetics. Petrochemical based or not, these are still probably not something you want to hold food or beverages.

The organic nature of plastic is part of the problem. The molecules used to harden or soften plastics so they can be more readily used are actually very similar to the hormones our bodies rely on to carry out essential biological functions. BPA has received a lot of attention lately, as well it should, but it is not the only chemical to worry about in plastic. There is BPA, BPS, phthalates, adipates, styrene, and more.

All these compounds mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a system of communication that controls growth, development, sexual function, and other important processes within the body. These chemicals attach to cell receptors and alter the normal and natural progression of things. BPA alone has been the focus of hundreds of recent studies to see how it affects the endocrine system. The results have been frightening.

BPA has been linked to early breast development, a risk factor for breast cancer, infertility, egg defects, lowered sperm count, deformities in the urethra, hyperactivity, attention deficit, sensitivity to drugs of abuse, obesity, and cancers including leukemia, testicular, breast, and prostate. This is troubling as one study showed 93% of children and adults in 2003 to 2004 had BPA present in their urine.

BPA doesn’t just come from our food and beverage choices. It comes from the thermal paper used for receipts. This is then ingested if we do not wash our hands after handling receipts and money. It also comes from the beauty products we use in the shower, along with phthalates from our shower curtains. Most of these our body gets rid of in a couple days, but as we keep building on the exposure, these chemicals take a toll.

Our body has a defense system in place to deal with toxins when there are too many to be easily dealt with by the kidneys and liver. Our body dumps them into fat cells to keep them out of the blood stream where they can do more harm. This contributes to the obesity problem the world is facing. There have even been studies that show these endocrine disruptors can switch normal connective tissue cells into fat cells. This isn’t how fat should be stored. It is a last ditch effort to remove toxins. The cells that contain these chemicals are then unable to function properly. It also means those who lose weight quickly are subjecting themselves to massive amounts of toxins—just another reason for the yo-yo effect of dieting. The body naturally starts shoving the avalanche of chemicals back into fat cells.

All plastic packaging is suspect. Don’t trust those that claim they are BPA free. Most of these now contain BPS, a similar compound that still disrupts the endocrine system. It just doesn’t have the research behind it that BPA does, yet, and companies know they can get away with it for years before we’ve had the time to figure out what harm this new plasticizer is doing. As these plastics degrade even more chemicals leach out. The heat and stress of dishwasher and microwave speed this process. Then as they degrade in landfills and the ocean, the BPA, BPS, and phthalates make their way into ground water and the environment.

Fish have been shown to be exceptionally susceptible to these chemicals. The behavioral and reproductive consequences are just beginning to draw notice in the animal kingdom, but have been ongoing in humans for quite some time. This is a lot negative, but there is still some hope for us to redeem ourselves. Begin today; eliminate as much plastic from your foods and beverages as possible. You probably won’t be able to get rid of it all, but a step in the right direction will help.

Drop the plastic bottles. Don’t drink anything that comes in plastic. Drop the aluminum and tin cans. These are coated with BPA. Try not to handle receipts and don’t put them in the bag with food. Use glass and stainless steel to store food in your fridge. Use glass for your water bottle, they sell high impact ones that can take a decent amount of normal wear and tear without shattering. Get a good filter to help remove toxins from the water you drink. Drink plenty of fresh fruit juice and eat organic fruits and vegetables. The vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and antioxidants in these will help cleanse and clear out the chemicals. Choose fresh or dried foods over canned. A good fulvic acid complex is also a great addition to aid the body in removing unwanted synthetic invaders.

You won’t be able to remove all plastic from your life or even your food. There are too many things that come with plastic attached and there are also plenty of very good supplements, herbs, and foods that only come in plastic. This is fine for now as long as you begin to cut out the big ones like water bottles (reusable or not), soda cans, canned foods, utensils, and serving dishes. Dry products are less likely to leach toxins from their packaging, and the less fat and oil the better as many of these toxins are fat soluble. Start with one and then slowly pick away at your plastic addiction.

Your body is actually very good at protecting you and removing harmful materials if you just help it along a little. Give it a break now and again and it will thank you.

Learn more about Charlie Pulsipher

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