Fantastic Plastic; A Threat to Health and The Environment

Vikki Scovell
 


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Modern life is ‘plasticized, ’ conveying enormous benefits to our lives in hygiene, convenience and colour. Plastics are everywhere within the home, in food packaging, cooking utensils, children’s toys, building materials and household equipment. Plastics result from the petrochemical industry (non-sustainable and environmentally disastrous) and are environmentally hazardous throughout their lifecycle; starting with their production which involves large-scale pollution, releasing potent chemicals such as dioxins, phthalates and toxic metals into our environment; and affecting human, animal, plant and aquatic life. Plastic is given different qualities through treatment with a cocktail of other terrifying chemicals, all of which can leach out of the individual products and into air (you know that new plastic smell?), water or something in close proximity to the plastic. And then what do we do?

We wrap our food up in it! Most supermarket food is placed on polystyrene trays, packed and smothered in cling film, displayed in glossy punnets, or preserved in tins lined with plastics. Next we eat the food (and possibly the leached plastic chemicals) and chuck the packaging into the bin. From here the plastics stay with us forever, being largely un-biodegradable. Tiny fragments of plastics are accumulating in the Pacific Ocean and wreaking havoc throughout the food chain. If the plastics are burnt, then they release a stream of unpronounceable and highly toxic chemicals into the environment (posing a huge risk to the health of fire-fighters, and possibly proving fatal to occupants of burning buildings who inhale PVC fumes). Plastics are quite literally a problem that will not go away.

They appear to be so useful and hygienic, but can seep dangerous chemicals into the foods which they come into contact with, possibly exacerbated by heat (think oven-safe and microwaveable packaging). Recent studies across America (including the University of Rochester and the National Centre for Environmental Health) have suggested that phthalates (chemicals found in plastics such as Clingfilm, vinyl and plastic bags) can cross the placenta, damaging the *** development of male children (this is also recognised in other mammals) resulting in physical and possibly behavioural problems. A team of Swedish researchers have linked the household use of plastics to an increase in eczema, asthma and other allergies, and there is concern that the immature bodies of children and babies are at increased risk of toxic damage and build up of plastic chemicals, found in food packaging, toys and drinking bottles. (Several types of plastics have been phased out of use for toys of young children due to their health-risk). Further research has indicated a link between the use of plastics around food and the development of certain cancers such as breast cancer, immune problems, and even infertility.

So what can you do to reduce the amount of plastic in your life?

1) Ditch plastic bags, and always carry cloth bags and baskets; for fairly traded organic cotton bags try www.bishopstontrading.co.uk Keep bags in your car, and fold cotton bags up small in your handbag.

2) Chuck out the cling film and use unbleached brown paper and grease-proof paper or recycled aluminium foil to pack sandwiches and store foods in the fridge. Buy unbleached paper bags at www.soilassociation.org The paper bags can be reused several times and eventually composted or recycled with your newspapers.

3) Have your vegetables delivered to you to cut down on supermarket packaging; www.riverford.co.uk mostly use unbleached paper bags, cardboard punnets and boxes, cutting out a vast amount of packaging and waste. Ask your supermarket to provide unbleached paper bags, or take your own; my local shops are quite used to my strange behaviour by now! Try using local markets, fruit and veg shops or your farmers market and take your own baskets and bags; I get sellers to tip stuff straight into my bag if they do not have paper bags. A further bonus is that less stuff ends up in your bin, and you don’t spend an hour unpacking everything.

4) Drink tap water in stead of mineral water, and send kids to school with a drink in a metal sports container rather than plastic bottles. If you can’t bear the tap water, then buy the larger 5 litre mineral water bottles, or buy a water filter.

5) Go shabby Chic; spring-clean all of the plastic stuff out of the kitchen and invest in wooden spoons and chopping boards (both of which draw bacteria into the wood and kill it), have some fun choosing ceramic mixing bowls and other kitchen stuff. Look on Ebay for old-fashioned stoneware jelly moulds, and other traditional kitchen things. Don’t forget, Christmas is coming, so you can ask for some new things as presents.

6) Sometimes, having children seems to involve surrounding yourself with mountains of multi-coloured plastic, but with some careful buying you can choose safer products for your family and friends, especially for tiny vulnerable new babies. Look out for traditional rag dolls, and knitted woollen teddies, or visit www.naturalnursery.co.uk Buy young children wooden toys (www.borndirect.co.uk ) which can be safely chewed and sucked, discourage use of dummies (I know it isn’t that easy, I have been there) and source PVC-free, and glass baby bottles from www.greenbabyco.com Also you may wish to avoid chemical ‘fleece’ blankets and go for natural fibres www.borndirect.co.uk

7) Choose natural fibres in general. ‘Fleece’ materials may be extremely cheap, but are made of plastic derivatives (some are made of recycled plastic bottles). Synthetic clothes are an environmental nightmare because not only do they release dangerous chemicals during their processing, but they are almost indestructible, do not biodegrade and burn to release noxious chemicals back into the environment. In fact clothing is another area which you may wish to think about. It is worth considering that school clothes are thought to be some of the most chemically toxic items of clothing which you can buy. I know it is expensive, but go for real cotton, wool, linen and other natural fibres where possible.

Cutting down of the amount of plastic in your life will help you to eat more healthily (lots of local fruit and veg), give you a great excuse for a clear-out and a shopping spree, and help you work toward a more sustainable, and healthful lifestyle. There has been so much concern in recent years about the negative impact of ‘plastic living’ on our health, that there is plenty of choice when looking for alternatives. Until next time, happy shopping!

Vikki Scovell BA(hons) PG DIP is a fully qualified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach. She is a qualified Nutrition Adviser, GP Referred Trainer and runs successful Community and Corporate Exercise classes and events. Vikki is a consultant in Healthy Eating and Exercise initiatives to schools in the independent sector and publishes School and General Healthy Living newsletters. Vikki believes passionately that everyone can make small changes to their lifestyle to ensure that they live happier, longer and healthier lives. She lives in Bristol in the U. K. with her partner Jeremy and two young children Apple and Honey. For enquiries for nutritional advice, personal training, corporate wellness and general enquiriesvisit http://www.getfitter.com

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