Plastics have a bad reputation – especially in the home. But are all plastics “bad”? Here’s what you need to know.
Plastic. It’s fantastic – isn’t it? You've heard plastics can be injurious to your health, but are they really all bad?
Plastic rose to an apex of household use beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when it became well-known in nearly all households for its desirable properties: it was easy to clean, hard to rip or tear (depending upon the plastic), cheap, waterproof and readily available. What consumers didn’t know was that some of these materials (as well as the processes used to make them) could be doing more harm than good.
In the late 20th century, plastic came under scrutiny, being accused of causing everything from waste dump clogging to wildlife-threatening to cancer and reproductive issues-causing.
Are all these facts true? If so, are they true of every plastic? Let’s look a bit deeper into the role of plastics – and whether you should eliminate them entirely from your home.
This common household plastic is generally recognized by consumer industry assessments to be safe given average use. It is used for drink bottles, mouthwash, beer, pickled items and even peanut butter or jelly plastic jars.
But a closer look at PET shows us that antimony can leach from it. Antimony is a metalloid element that can cause a host of symptoms in susceptible people. These may include stomach issues such as diarrhea or even ulcers, according to a paper from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Even if you or a family member experiences no symptoms, it’s difficult to say whether antimony leakage is affecting you, as toxicity of certain elements may increase over time and with exposure. This means future symptoms could be difficult to link back to PET, leaving you wondering why you feel so ill – and with no idea what to do about the problem.
HDPE, used to make grocery bags and containers for dish and laundry detergent, as well as water, milk or juice, is considered a low-hazard material.
But shockingly, studies have shown this, as well as other plastics, to have estrogenic properties. This could mean severe hazards particularly to children or to fetuses, as they can alter cells.
Like many other plastics, HDPE has the potential to affect and alter the endocrine system, disrupting hormones. Such compounds have been suggested to have a link to reproductive issues, including infertility, in some individuals.
Other plastics implicated in negative health issues are Polystyrene, whose primary constituent, styrene, was shown in studies to cause lung tumors in mice and has been associated with leukemia; Polyethylene; and Bisphenol A (BPA). Unfortunately, though some plastics are generally recognized as safe, some studies show negative properties that appear common to all or at least most plastics, which means what we don’t know yet could be hurting us.
We’ll be exploring ways to reduce plastic usage in your home in future articles, so mark this space to find out more about having a healthy, plastics toxicity-free home.