Plastic can seem pervasive at times. From food packaging and storage to flooring and household goods, plastic is everywhere. There are a number of ways that we try to eliminate plastic from our lives—taking reusable shopping bags to market, avoiding processed pre-packaged foods, eschewing the use of water bottles—but without drastic measures it can be nearly impossible to rid this non-biodegradable substance from our lives for good. Not all plastic is created equally, so if you’re picking and choosing plastics to rid from your life, start with these.
#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride): This plastic is used to make children’s toys, shower curtains, vinyl flooring and some wallpapers. To make PVC soft and pliable, phthalates are added during the manufacturing process. Phthalates can leach of plastic products and into the human body, where they’ve been linked to a number of health problems: hormone disruption, reproductive disorders, even liver cancer. (Read more about the health concerns of phthalates.)
To avoid #3 plastics, don’t buy PVC shower curtains; opt for natural fabrics like organic cotton, linen or hemp. Don’t give young children plastic teething rings, and don’t wrap food in plastic wrap.
#6 PS (polystyrene): You’re probably most familiar with this plastic from Styrofoam. Polystyrene is made of petroleum byproducts and can be found in foam food containers, meat trays, plastic cutlery and more. Recycling polystyrene can be difficult, and because it’s so light, polystyrene is easily picked up by the wind and tossed into the ocean where it contributes to marine pollution. Polystyrene has been known to leach styrene, a possible neurotoxin and carcinogen that has been linked to hormone disruption, infertility and cancer.
To avoid #6 plastics, don’t store food in foam containers, especially fatty foods such as meat and cheese, which are more likely to absorb chemicals; try taking your own glass to-go containers when you eat out.
#7 PC (polycarbonate): This plastic encompasses all sorts of “other” plastics that don’t fit into the previous six categories. However, the most common type of #7 plastic is polycarbonate with added bisphenol A (BPA), which is used to make reusable food containers, baby bottles and reusable water bottles. When heated and washed with a strong detergent, polycarbonate plastic can break down and leach BPA. Among other health problems, BPA has been linked to hormone and reproductive system damage, early puberty, obesity and even cancer. (Learn more about the risks of BPA.)
To avoid #7 plastic, opt for glass food storage containers instead of plastic ones. If you already have plastic food storage containers, never store fatty foods in them and wash them by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher. (Read more about food safety issues concerning plastic food storage containers.)
To learn more about the health risks of these and other plastics—and for more ways to eliminate plastic from your life—check out the article “De-Plasticize Your Life” from Natural Home & Garden.
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