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Plastics - The Good and The Bad!

Pregnancy, thyroid | April 19, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

pregnancy, thyroid health

Plastics - The Good and The Bad!

Plastic is all around us. You can find it in your food and drink packaging, shoe soles and garden hoses, toys, household white goods, computers, piping, insulation, cars and more.

Australia is a major consumer of plastics. One report estimates that in 2011 there was 2.188 million tonnes of plastic waste generated in Australia. In addition, we buy 118, 000 tonnes of plastic bottles each year.

The qualities of plastic

Plastic has many benefits:

  • Lightweight. Plastic is suitable for making tools and equipment that otherwise would be too heavy to use (e.g. vacuum cleaners).
  • Versatile. Plastics come in any design, colour, texture or shape.
  • Durable. Plastics are low maintenance, hardwearing and corrosion resistant, which make them an attractive choice for use in the construction industry
  • Do not conduct electricity or heat. Plastics are great insulators and are widely used to insulate electric wiring, light fittings and handles. Plastics protect from the risk of electric shock in products such as hairdryers, electric razors and food mixers, as well as reduce the risk of burns in the kitchen when using toasters, deep-fat fryers and kettles.
  • Energy-efficient. Plastics take less energy to produce - and therefore less fossil fuel.

The problem with plastic

There are two issues to consider:

1. Environmental impact

The problem with plasticOnly certain plastics are currently recyclable. Most plastic is not biodegradable, and even the most biodegradable plastic takes a long time to break down. Plastic ends up in landfill and remains there for hundreds of years, never breaking down. Additionally, plastic waste accounts for up to 80% of all litter found in the world’s oceans, affecting the ecosystem and posing risks to turtles, whales, dolphins, and sea birds that mistake it for food and ingest it, or get entangled in it, restricting their movement and causing injury.

2. Health

Exposure to certain compounds in plastic can have an impact on hormonal activity. The term used for these hormonally active chemicals is endocrine disruptors; meaning they can mimic the effects of natural hormones in our body, especially oestrogen, and potentially having a significant impact on human health. Children are more susceptible to exposure to endocrine disruptors.

High levels of endocrine disruptors in the body have been linked to increased risk of cancer, thyroid disorders, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and infertility.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Perhaps the best-known endocrine disruptor with hormonal activity is BPA. It is used in the production of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins – these are the plastic coatings lining the inside of food and beverage cans.

The problem with plasticIt is thought that BPA can leach over time into food and drinks from containers. BPA had been found in amniotic fluid and in the milk of nursing mothers, suggesting that exposure could begin prenatally, in the uterus, and affect birth weight, growth and development, as well as gene expression. In 2010, the Australian Government announced a voluntary phase out of BPA use in polycarbonate baby bottles.

Phthalates

Another category of endocrine disruptor that are hazardous for the body includes Phthalates.  Phthalates are added to plastics to make them more pliable. You may found them in:

  • PVC
  • Soap, shampoo and hair spray
  • Water bottles, microwave containers
  • Cling wrap
  • Children’s toys
  • Nail polish products
  • Vinyl floor tiles and carpet backing
  • Enteric coating in many medications

Phthalates can leach and enter the body through ingestion or inhalation. A US study found a link between premature birth and phthalates.

What can I do for the environment?

Here are some things that you can do for the environment:What can I do for the environment?

  • Avoid: Say no to plastic bags and replace them with reusable shopping bags made from natural materials such as canvas, or paper bags made from recycled paper, or cardboard boxes.
     
  • Reduce. Reduce your everyday waste. The first step you can take is to eliminate single-use plastic (such as plastic straws), and buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
  • Reuse. If you happen to use plastic containers and/or plastic bags, reuse them whenever possible. Also remember, plastic bags are highly mobile; make sure to tie the tops of plastic bags up when disposing of them to prevent them blowing away.
  • Recycle. All plastic is potentially recyclable; however, according to Greenpeace Australia, only 9 percent of all plastic is recycled. At present, only certain plastic bottles and containers, those that are numbered 1, 2 and 3, are accepted for recycling in Australia. Look for the Plastic Identification Code on the product. This code is displayed as a number inside a triangle of chasing arrows, and is usually found stamped on the bottom of the products. Some local councils, however, also recycle numbers 4 through 7. Check with your local council if you are unsure. To prepare plastics for recycling, rinse residue from bottles and containers, and remove lids and rings from bottlenecks.

What can I do for my health?

Reduce exposure to plastic by following these tips:

  • Avoid buying food wrapped in cling wrap.
  • Drink from a glass, stainless steel or ceramic water bottle, rather than using a plastic water bottle.
  • Cut down on canned food. A study of pregnant women revealed that those who consumed no canned vegetables had significantly less BPA levels compared to women who consumed 1 to 3 cans or women who consumed more than 3 cans per week.
  • Make sure baby bottles and toys are marked “BPA-free”. 
  • Avoid cooking food in plastic containers, as chemicals are more likely to leach out in high temperatures.

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References

ABC News, 2013. Common plastics chemical linked to pre-term births. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-19/common-plastics-chemical-linked-to-pre-term-births/5101828

Bloomberg Alliance, Senate Inquiry: The threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia. Available at: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/boomerangalliance/pages/158/attachments/original/1445317763/Environment_Communications_marine_plastic_sub77.pdf?1445317763

British Plastics Federation, 2018. Plastic Applications. Available at: http://www.bpf.co.uk/plastipedia/applications/default.aspx

Cleanup Australia 2009. Plastic Recycling Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.cleanup.org.au/PDF/au/cua_plastic_recycling_fact_sheet.pdf

De Coster, S & van Larebeke, N., 2012. Review Article: Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Associated Disorders and Mechanisms of Action. Hindawi Publishing Corporation Journal of Environmental and Public Health Volume 2012, Article ID 713696. Available at: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/713696/

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 2018. Bisphenol A (BPA). Available at: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/Pages/default.aspx

Greenpeace Australia Pacific, 2017. Australia’s Plastic Problem: What, why & how?  Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.au/blog/australias-plastic-problem/

Heindel, J.J., 2003. Endocrine Disruptors and the Obesity Epidemic. Toxicological Sciences, 76(2), pp.247–249. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/toxsci/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/toxsci/kfg255

Maffini, M. V. et al., 2006. Endocrine disruptors and reproductive health: The case of bisphenol-A. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 254–255, pp.179–186. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16781053

Schell, L.M., Gallo, M. V & Cook, K., 2012. What’s NOT to eat--food adulteration in the context of human biology. American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council, 24(2), pp.139–48. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22262531

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