3.10.2011

BPA FREE PLASTIC IS NOT SAFE ENOUGH


I've been writing for the past year about the toxic chemicals in our stuff, most notably the endocrine disrupter BPA, found not just in plastics, like water bottles, and in the linings of cans of food, but in cash register receipt paper and on dollar bills. It seems like every week brings news of toxic chemicals where we least expect them. Just recently we learned about formaldehyde on wrinkle-free fabrics.  I was beginning to wonder, wearily, if I was becoming paranoid about plastic?

Not scared enough, it turns out. Here's a link to an NPR report on plastics warning us that even BPA-free plastic isn't safe, because of the many other estrogen-like compounds that enter plastics during the manufacturing process.

Not only are many plastics made with toxic chemicals, but we're trashing the planet with plastic. Plastic doesn't biodegrade. Most of it isn't recycled. Tons of it ends up in the oceans, where it does great harm to wildlife--and returns to our bodies when we eat their flesh.

Beth Terry, the creator of the blog Fake Plastic Fish, did an excellent video about cutting plastic consumption. I admire people who undertake such --well, I was about to say Quixotic endeavors, but she was effective. She cut her plastic consumption radically. I watched her video. It made me much more aware of how much plastic comes home with me--and then goes into the recycling bin. I decided to try an experiment to break the Plastic Cycle: I would take no plastic into the house for a week.

I lasted two days.

However, I'm going to try again--and again. Awareness is the beginning of change.

"Aw, come on, trace elements...", you're thinking. But it is hard to ignore what serious scientists have to say about BPA--what a terrible poison it is, and how we end up ingesting it when it migrates into water and food. When a level-headed scientist warns you that he is trying to keep it out of his own home, that's enough for me.

I've had kidney cancer--and that has made me want to be careful about toxins. (I write about the cancer in Slow Love, and I'm fine now.) But I'm having a hard time getting the information I need to make smart choices. Why? The chemical industry doesn't want us to know the facts. We have no idea what is in our stuff. There are no lists of ingredients on plastic items--even though those ingredients get into our food, mandated by the FDA and USDA to list ingredients! Unintentional toxins don't count, I suppose.

Why should I be trying to figure out what has poison in it, and what doesn't? I don't run a lab; I don't have access to testing facilities. It is impossible for me to know the facts without the help of scientists who are not on chemical industry payrolls. Why is our safety up to us, the consumers? Why are all chemicals innocent until proven guilty? We can only know that after they have affected us!

Until the chemicals in plastics are proven safe, I'm going to assume that they are not good for me or my children. I'm going to rid my house of plastic, and use glass to store food and drink.

My colleague at the Environmental Defense Fund, Richard Denison, has done a heroic job in his excellent blog covering the toxins we're exposed to every day and the efforts for--and against--reform. His blog is a must-read. To find out what you can do to let Congress know that you don't want toxic chemicals in your stuff, visit the I Am Not a Guinea Pig Campaign, watch their video, and learn about how to support desperately-needed reform of the chemicals industry.

26 comments:

pve design said...

Just yesterday, I posted on a "zero-waste" home that brings glass containers along with cloth bags for items to grocery shop.
pve

Ella said...

When we beguine with recycling all plastic, soft and hard products I realized how much plastic packaging I brought home every week, mostly with food. I will watch the video of Beth Terry.

Project Girl said...

Thank you! I'll be following links and reading, and sharing what I learn with friends/family.

Judith said...

Excellent post and excellent video. The amount of packaging — plastic packaging specifically — has always horrified me. Especially since my husband started shopping at Costco. Even if you buy something in a jar, you have to remove a plastic seal before you can open it.

And what about other things that come packaged in plastic? It requires brute force to get through it all to remove the plastic.

Sometimes all the environmental issues are overwhelming but if we each are persistent in raising our voices, I have faith that we can make a difference.

Thanks, Dominique, for continuing to remind us that there will be much more beauty to take in via Slow Love if we each do what we can to protect our planet.

Blue said...

I'm glad someone of your stature wrote with such directness about this problem. I posted last year about how I'd noticed the amount of plastic I was taking to recycling had grown abominably and how worrisome it was. I try to not buy anything in plastic but it is actually impossible - for as Judith says even glass is often sealed or lidded with plastic. My local grocery store, and I'm sure it the same at its other branches across the country, touts its green mission constantly yet continues to increase the amount of plastic packaging in its stores. I once asked why cheese could not be wrapped in paper and the man at the counter said it was too expensive and only plastic was economical.

Frightening!

Madgew said...

Santa Monica just banned all plastic bags for markets and retail stores. They have given until Sept 1 for everyone to get on board. It is a start. Also EWG.org is working constantly on legislation to end BPA everywhere.

Karena said...

It is so good to see you address this at length Dominique. Our health and tthe Planet Earths health is so important!

xoxo
Karena
Art by Karena

VL said...

I live in Manhattan and recycle assiduously, as well as take my food scraps for composting to the Union Square Greenmarket. But as a single person living alone, I have had to resist mightily the temptation to buy prepared food when I've been feeling lazy. In fact, it was my abhorrence of all the plastic, most of which is not picked up curbside in NYC (they only pick up plastic bottles and jugs; the food containers, luckily, can be taken back to Whole Foods for recycling) that made me determined to cook at home more. Not my health, not my widening girth -- it was the plastic! (Well, whatever it takes, right?) Basically, getting rid of plastic in my life has entailed eating more healthily -- cooking fresh ingredients at home, not ordering take-out from places that use plastic containers, not buying those wonderful single-serving desserts that tempt me in the Whole Foods line. In fact, I recently vowed to eat only those treats I make myself, which, given the delayed gratification involved, has improved my diet. Plus, not only is it enjoyable to make wonderful food with my own hands, but it's often better than the stuff I can buy, it's definitely less expensive on a per-serving basis, and the leftovers cater to that lazy side of me that wanted to buy just one serving of dessert in a plastic container.

It troubles me that we tend to look to technology for answers, when often it is technology (and the increasing individualization of our society) that is the cause of the problem. Returning to a previous way of doing things (cooking in one's own home) turns out to have all sorts of beneficial consequences (better diet, building skills, the sensual pleasures of preparing and eating good food) that myriad technologies together aren't addressing successfully (diet pills, gym memberships, "time savers" and plastic recycling aren't making us healthier or preventing plastic waste ending up in the ocean and landfills).

Privilege of Parenting said...

Sometimes I think we are in some parallel arc with ancient Rome, where it turned out that the lead plates and utensils were poisoning a society that had over-expanded and which operated on corruption and cruelty. The Christian epoch(meant to be about compassion, but which soon turned to conquest in its own right) arose out of the Roman dwindle, and now, perhaps, our very own culture is dying of materialism which comes in the form of plastic (i.e. moldable, fake, toxic, cheap and ubiquitous).

Could some sort of new compassion arise? Perhaps not here where we obsess on Charlie Sheen while revolution erupts and blood flows in corners of the world where plastic is the least of people's problems.

Here's to a good old glass jar, fashioned out of the sands of time.

Meribeth said...

Well said, Privilege of Parenting ...

Emom said...

Thank you....smiles.

Jen of Country Weekend said...

This is really inspiring. Thank you!

Vivien said...

Thanks for bringing this up - yes, it's terrible how plastic is silting up in the oceans and affecting the creatures there. Unfortunately it usually takes a real crisis before things will change.

Slightly off-topic, I wonder why glass bottles can't be re-used. Why do they have to be smashed in the recycling process and re-made? Here in the UK milk bottles used to be washed and re-used, ditto beer bottles. Maybe it's cheaper to just remake them? Where are they re-made - in the east, because people in the west don't want to work in bottle-washing or bottle-making factories? (No, I wouldn't like to do it either! - but it's an alternative to unemployment).

Ah well, these things are so complex!

mary said...

Thank you for this post. I am extremely sensitive to all chemical additives in food and in detergents, shampoos, etc. BPH, as well as most other plastics can be eliminated if there exists the will to do so. Voices like yours, and mine do make a difference. Banning plastics shopping bags, as San Francisco has done, is a first initial step; there are so many more incremental steps that can be taken to move us towards a non-toxic planet. Please keep your voice loud.

Natalie said...

Speaking of Chihuly & the environment, RISD is hosting a MAKE IT BETTER symposium on the integration of Art/Design & the future of Healthcare this Fri & Sat (the 11th & 12th)--a variety of topics, & possibly still some openings.

VL said...

By the way, I found a fascinating article published on March 8, 2011 in The McGill Daily on what really happens to recyclable waste. Your readers may be interested in reading it here: http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2011/03/waste-mismanagement/.

Julia Boston said...

In England, Tesco, our biggest supermarket actively push their plastic bags on customers. Could this be anything to do with advertising, the bags are NOT plain white! In France plastic bags hardly exist as in many other European countries why not here...............Julia

karensandburg said...

A documentary called "Bag It" coming out on PBS in april is about plastic bags in the U.S. and how we used 102 billion of them in 2009 and how seattle tried to charge a fee for plastic bags but was prevented from doing so by the American Chemistry Council (whose dear friend is Dow Chemical). but san francisco managed to ban them... in addition to the plastic being toxic, there's lead in the print on the bags.

i carry a reusable compact chico bag in my purse for all occasions. my daughter and her friend proudly showed me that they carried the few groceries they picked up rather than get a bag. and on those occasions when i forget to bring a bag, i just carry out whatever i've purchased, including clothes, without a bag... the days of stuffing bags into bags and then throwing them away when they get too stuffed should simply not be happening anymore. it is one of those simple habits that people need to change...

Jennifer M Koskinen said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts... I see someone just mentioned "Bag It" in the comments and I am happy to see word is getting out about this movie, too - it is EXCELLENT and does a great job in sharing information about BPA and the ACC... Watch for it this spring on PBS!!

Dominique said...

Privilege of Parenting: I'm afraid that plastic may not be the least of our problems--just one that has a delayed effect. No less important than blood flowing in revolutions; simply not immediate. And definitely way past the Charlie S scale. I'm with you though on glass jars--and love your comment about the sands of times.

Yes, a new compassion--fashioned on the capacity for compassion that has evolved in us over the ages--is what is called for now.

VL I have the exact same problem, as I sometimes turn to take out food. Actually--notwithstanding all the conversation about cooking organically, farmers markets, and etc--this is the way the world is going. We'll be seeing much more prepared food in the supermarket aisles, as people devote less and less time to cooking. Therefore, we can beg our suppliers to come up with reusable containers, or bring pyrex to the supermarket!

susanmtk said...

"Bag It" the movie does an excellent job of exploring plastic waste accumulation and discussing the toxcity. It also reveals how little of the plastic is really being recycled or reused. The film primarily advocates against one-use only products. It is certainly worth watching.

VL said...

Dominique (and fellow readers), maybe you'd be interested in reading my post about "convenience food", inspired by your column. I'd like to make the argument that all this pre-packaging is anything but convenient, even from a human standpoint (let alone the environment's), and the post was my first stab at it.

http://wwwmiscellaneousmusings.blogspot.com/2011/03/connecting-food-with-healthours-and.html

Turner Pack Rats said...

ah yes and here in Maine, we have a new brain dead Republican governor who is rolling back legislation already passed outlawing BPA because he thinks its bad for business. he even made a public comment to the effect that it "will only grow little beards on women". of course, none of these businesses will ever spend a penny in Maine but what does he care. Between him and our newly Republican controlled legislature, don't come here for a vacation as we're about to become the most polluted state in the country just to attract new business. they want to throw out the bottle bill, roll back environmental laws that have been in place for 40 years. I even heard they are digging up Joe McCarthy to run our tourism business. our license plates will now read "Maine - Pollutionland"

Anonymous said...

I started to use the reusable "non plastic" bags that can used for grocery shopping. Funny but they look like plastic too. They also harbor all kinds of bad germs...E coli for one. I tried throwing them in the washer, but they all fell apart and ripped. As far as the glass containers instead of plastic...they are just to heavy to lug.. the very reason why the plastic became to popular. Life is hard enough, give us a break, get a life, beyond your own small very elitist scope. The sooner you stop pandering to the rich and elite and over educated, and get down here on planet earth you might get a lot more bloggers!

Andy Starr said...

Hello Dominique,

Thanks for your excellent blogging to get the word out that "BPA-free baby bottle" doesn't necessarily mean safe, pure, or even "free of estrogenic toxins". I work for PlastiPure, the company who did the study featured on NPR in March. We believe that plastic products that come in contact with food CAN be made free of estrogenic activity, though the big corporations often want to keep the status quo. Could I contact you directly some time soon? Thanks, Andy Starr andystarr@sbcglobal.net

Andrea Leon Grossman said...

A great alternative to plastic water filter pitchers: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zachallia/soma-beautifully-innovative-all-natural-water-filt