The Harmful Effects of Plastics on Our Health
By Audrey King, RHN
As a society, we don’t think twice about storing our food and beverages in plastic. We have become desensitized to the devastating impact that the manufacturing and disposal of this substance has on our health and on our planet.
Did you know plastic fibres are everywhere? Plastic now makes up about half of ALL human-related waste. If I have learned one thing through holistic nutrition, it is how the health of the planet is intricately connected to our own physical health.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
In the 1950s, fossil fuels were used to create a miraculous substance that would open the doors to many benefits for humankind, including medical products, building materials, and much more. Plastic was marketed as being durable, lightweight, low maintenance and helped to conserve energy and natural resources. They were also cost effective at the time, due to the cheap price of petroleum then. (This of course is no longer the case as non-renewable fossil fuels have since markedly increased in price – and are expected to continue to do so as we see oil reserves get used up.)
Despite the relatively cheap price of plastic, the manufacturing of plastic products creates the release of toxic chemicals that are carcinogenic, neurotoxic and hormone-disruptive. They are released at every stage of its creation and disposal.
The Dirty Little Secret
Convenience and durability comes at a price. The disposal of plastics has become the elephant in the room; it does not break down and decompose quickly or easily. The organisms that break down organic matter have a very difficult time breaking down plastic products. In addition, we are recycling less than 10% of the total quantity of plastic products being sent to recycling facilities. This leads to an incredible amount of plastic material being sent to landfills or to incinerators where the toxic compounds get released into the air, soil and water. It is heartbreaking to see this happening to our beautiful planet.
The other part we forget is that we are at the top of the food chain. Every organism that is poisoned by these toxins is ingested by another organism, multiplying their concentrations and effects up the food chain. This bioaccumulation continues to increase until it reaches the top and enters OUR daily diets.
The definition of microplastics is “extremely small pieces of plastic debris in the environment resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste”. The facts appear to be that we are drinking and probably eating microplastics ALL the time. I don’t know about you, but I find this disturbing. The impact is becoming clearer now that years of damage is providing evidence that we have to change our ways or deal with the consequences.
Studies report “there is evidence that particles may even cross the gut wall and be translocated to other body tissues, with unknown consequences”.
The Health Connection
Phthalates are a group of chemicals which are used to increase the flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity of plastics. They have been identified as causing serious illness but are still being used around the world. The levels of this chemical can be found in higher concentrations in our bodies if our diet is high in packaged and processed food, soft drinks and less if our diet is made up of fruit and vegetables. The fact that this chemical is an endocrine disruptor and can cause inflammation may partially explain its relationship to so many diseases. These studies are ongoing and we are learning new information all the time.
The following are directly associated with plastic exposure in our food and environment.
- Hormone imbalance and disruption
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Birth defects
- Impaired immunity and leaky gut
- Developmental problems
- Reproductive problems.
- Thyroid imbalance
As a nutritionist, I find this alarming. It is time we, as a society, begin to choose our health and the health of our planet. Awareness is key and action must be conscious.
Make Better Health Choices (Here are a few suggestions to start with)
- Buy organic
- Buy local and in season
- Buy more food that is not packaged (like fresh fruits and vegetables)
- Do not put the fruit and vegetables you buy into plastic produce bags
- Reduce packaging by buying in bulk and using refillable glass containers
- Avoid heating plastic containers in the microwave
- Choose stainless steel or cast-iron pots and pans
- Avoid polycarbonate drinking bottles containing bisphenol A (BPA)
- Do not store fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap
- Do not buy plastic toys, teethers, etc. for children
- Use natural fiber organic clothing and bedding
- Avoid food products sold in or on styrene (Styrofoam) containers
- Avoid canned foods & disposable coffee cups (most cans & coffee cups are lined with BPA)
- Look for food in glass or metal containers
The Solutions You Can Put into Practice Today!
- Reduce your use of disposable plastic
- Litter less by reusing more
- Encourage and fund research into better green options that consider long term impacts
- Increase public awareness of the health impacts of plastic
- Educate employees of the “Why” behind offering programs to reduce plastic
- Do all of this with urgency and commitment. Encourage world involvement!
- Organize or participate in neighbourhood litter collection
- Follow Ahimsa Eco Solutions on Facebook, Instagram and sign up for their newsletter!
- Use your purchasing power to effect change by choosing products that are better for your health and the environment
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commonly used plastics and their known health effects.
Audrey King is an Ahimsa Eco Ambassador and eats, sleeps and dreams holistic nutrition. She is a passionate advocate of eating a natural, live, good quality, whole foods diet. She works to empower and educate herclients to make better day-to- day decisions regarding their health and vitality. Audrey believes with just some key changes chronic disease can be mitigated or reversed. A strong voice for self-advocacy, Audrey encourages and empowers her clients to be active participants in their own health care. She addresses each client’s needs individually and loves supporting themthrough their journey of awareness. Find Audrey at www.audreyking.ca