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Society’s love affair with plastic is coming to an end. It is now undeniable that its hazards outweigh its benefits of convenience, and that something must be done to limit its adverse effects on human health and the environment.

We’ve become dependent on plastic to sustain our modern lifestyle, but now it’s polluting our oceans, our landfills, and even our bodies. 40% of plastic is used only once and then discarded—and each piece will take at least 450 years to biodegrade (some experts worry that more durable types of plastic will never completely break down).

Plastics contain toxic, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which inevitably end up in our bodies and waterways. Phthalates, BPA, and other plastic constituents have been linked with hormonal changes, reproductive dysfunction, premature cell death, and many other health issues.[1] And don’t think that “BPA-Free” plastic is any safer—studies have demonstrated that these alternatives are every bit as toxic.[2]

And plastic is in nearly everything, including kitchenware, paper products, shampoo, and dairy products. There have even been seized shipments of rice made from potatoes and synthetic plastic resin.

Despite these clear dangers, we’re having an awfully difficult time kicking our plastic habit. Seeing the inaction of corporations and consumers alike, some governments are stepping in and regulating the use of plastic. Jamaica is at the forefront of this movement—starting January 1, 2019, all Styrofoam, single-use plastic bags, and single-use plastic straws will be banned countrywide.

Plastic bans are a positive step (but we need to do more)

We’ve produced 9.2 billion tons of plastic since we started churning it out around 1950—and we’ve thrown away 6.9 billion tons of it. A United Nations report estimates that the world uses 4 trillion plastic bags and 500 billion disposable plastic cups every year.[3] Half a million straws are used (and thrown out) every single day.[4]

It’s no wonder that there’s a plastic island the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean (other estimates suggest it could be as big as Russia).

Marine plastic pollution is an especially pressing issues for island nations, where beaches and waterways are becoming increasingly clogged. Jamaica is not the first country to enact a plastic ban, but by proposing such an ambitious timeline and including all common single-use plastics in their legislation, the country hopes to inspire other nations to take decisive action.

It’s heartening to see that many other countries are taking similar steps. Taiwan also announced one of the farthest-reaching plastic bans in the world—one which will include all single-use bags, cups, straws, and utensils, and which will be in full effect by 2030. Kenya has already enacted the harshest plastic ban in the world: as of 2017, anyone caught using, producing, or selling plastic bags faces a $38,000 fine or up to four years in prison. Vanuatu, the United Kingdom, Australia, Zimbabwe, Canada, France, New Delhi, Morocco, Rwanda, and a handful of US cities are also jumping on the bandwagon.

While aspects of Jamaica’s plan still need to be clarified—such as the use of plastic products in packaged exports, and disability-based exemptions for the use of straws—the country is serious about hitting its goal. A member of the Jamaica’s ministry of economic growth and job creation explains the steps that are being taken to prepare the country for the ban: “We’re moving towards a ban on single-use plastic, but while we do so, we’re also working on a Plastic Minimization Project in collaboration with United Nations Environment, and with the support of the Government of Japan, to reduce and manage plastic marine litter from the land-based activities, in an environmentally sound matter.”

Meanwhile, scientists are hard at work developing plastics that will biodegrade quickly. The growing enthusiasm around plastic bans and regulations is much better news, though—biodegradable plastics may be a small step in the right direction, but many experts think they don’t represent a workable solution. Some of these supposedly eco-friendly plastics don’t even biodegrade like they should, and those that do run the risk of releasing toxic constituents into the environment at an even faster rate.

Most importantly, simply switching to plastic that disappears more quickly reinforces the same old habits of excessive consumption and wastefulness. What we really need is a shift in the culture of consumption, one that prioritizes thoughtfulness, carefulness, and concern for how our actions impact the planet.

You don’t have to wait for a plastic ban to do your part

Bans and regulations will obviously accelerate our collective shift away from plastic, but you don’t need to wait to take action. Start reducing your plastic usage today, for the good of your health and the planet.

Here are just a few suggestions to get you started: switch out plastic kitchenware for glass, avoid buying bottled water (and get a water filtration system instead), bring your own to-go cup to coffee shops (some restaurants will even let you provide your own non-plastic to-go container when placing your order), get reusable grocery totes, and recycle any plastic that you do end up using.

 


References

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michael_Kamrin/publication/24033387_Phthalate_Risks_Phthalate_Regulation_and_Public_Health_A_Review/links/0a85e539507ade9976000000.pdf

[2] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)30861-3

[3] https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[4] https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/

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Plastic has solved many of the problems of industrial society. It’s lightweight, cheap, and easy to produce; no wonder it was once considered a marvel of modern science. Those days are over, though, as we now know that plastic triggers nearly as many problems as it solves.

Its non-biodegradable nature (once hailed as durability) has allowed it to clog our land and oceans, and its toxicity presents a grave threat to human beings, as well as the greater ecosystems of which we are a part.

One of the most common toxic plastic constituents is bisphenol-A (BPA). It can easily be used as a building block of resins, as well as a variety of plastics. It’s also a dangerous endocrine disruptor—that is, it mimics the body’s natural hormones and disrupts normal endocrine function as a result.

Because hormones regulate nearly every aspect of the body, it didn’t take long for researchers to discover the problems that BPA can cause.

A review of relevant medical literature reveals that seventy-five studies link BPA to “adverse perinatal, childhood, and adult health effects,” including cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reproductive issues, asthma, developmental issues, birth defects, compromised gut flora, immune dysfunction, and more.[1]

And these risks affect nearly all of us—even a decade ago, the CDC reported in their National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey that 93% of all the urine samples they analyzed contained detectable levels of BPA.[2]

Such unequivocal data has prompted a widespread campaign to replace BPA-containing plastics with safer alternatives. But researchers are worried that these new plastics are just as bad for us.

How we accidentally discovered that BPA alternatives pose health risks

A recently published study demonstrates that BPS and other BPA variants have biological effects similar to those of BPA.[3] The strange part is that researchers made this discovery accidentally, while attempting to study the reproductive effects of BPA in mice.

Geneticist Patricia Hunt of Washington State University and her research team separated the mice into two groups: one that received doses of BPA through a dropper, and one that did not (the control group). Before long, the control group became almost indistinguishable from the BPA group, with both exhibiting adverse genetic effects.

After much confusion, Hunt finally figured out what was happening: both groups of mice were housed in plastic cages that were leaching bisphenol S (BPS), a widely used replacement for BPA.

This finding shifted the focus of the study, and the final published version reported on the multi-generational genotoxicity of both BPA and “replacement bisphenols.”[4]

The finer details of this genotoxicity are very worrisome: Hunt and her team report that BPA and its analogues can fundamentally disrupt the passing of genetic material during reproduction, and that the effects of such disruption (birth defects, lowered sperm count, reduced egg quality, etc.) can be passed down to future generations.

And toxicity aside, the study results also point to an equally worrisome phenomenon in chemical engineering—namely the tendency to replace chemicals of concern with structurally similar ones. The practice is so common that scientists have a name for these replacement chemicals: regrettable substitutes.

Subsequent studies have come to show just how regrettable BPA alternatives are—evidence overwhelmingly suggests that bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF), bisphenol AF (BPAF), tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), and other structural analogs of BPA are all endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxicants in animal models.[5]

How to minimize your toxicity risk

The study above reveals two worrying truths about the plastic industry.

First, it shows that, when rolling out replacements for plastic compounds that have been deemed toxic, manufacturers are always most likely to choose “regrettable substitutes.” Using structurally similar compounds is dramatically more cost-effective, and this practice isn’t technically prohibited by any existing regulation.

Secondly, the study reminds us that we have no way of knowing the risks of new plastic chemicals until a thorough examination is conducted—and manufacturers are simply not required to conduct any such safety evaluation before bringing their products to market.

The wise move when it comes to plastic products, then, is to assume that they’re toxic until proven safe. Experts particularly recommend avoiding plastics with recycling numbers 3, 6, 7, which all contain chemicals worthy of concern.

The absolute best course of action is to minimize your use of plastic altogether. Plastic is an ecological nightmare anyway, so any attempt to decrease your reliance upon it is beneficial for both your health and the environment. Ditch single-use plastics like grocery bags, takeout containers, straws, and coffee cups—they make up a significant percentage of all discarded plastic, and are easy to replace with reusable alternatives.

If you do still use plastic receptacles or kitchenware, try to avoid the most toxic types listed above, and don’t ever put plasticware in the dishwasher—the heat tends to leach toxic chemicals, which are then redeposited on the rest of your dishes.

 


References

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623813003456

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18197297

[3] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)30861-3

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29925041

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bpa-receipts - receipt-flickr-derek_b-220

The other day, I watched nervously while a coffee shop cashier dealt with a receipt printing malfunction. She fumbled with the unraveling roll of thermal printer paper, smoothed creases with her palms, and even held one end up of the stubborn reel between her teeth while she fidgeted. When she finally got the contraption working, I declined her offer of a receipt.

Not wanting to hold up the line, I didn’t voice my concerns to her…but here’s what I was thinking: even handling thermal printer paper (especially for hours every day) can be hazardous to your health, and rubbing it on your hands and mouth is downright dangerous.

This is because of a simple but frightening fact: receipt paper is saturated with bisphenol-A (BPA), the potent carcinogen and endocrine disruptor that first gained its infamy as a toxin in plastic containers and water bottles.

We wrote about this incredible destructive chemical in a past article—how it’s a form of “fake estrogen” that hijacks your body’s endocrine system and makes it go haywire. The ensuing dysfunction can lead to devastating issues with fertility and reproduction, metabolism, immune functioning, sleep, and mood. Studies have linked BPA to over fifty different serious health issues.[1]

Despite the impression given by the prevalence of “BPA-Free” plastic (which is still contaminated with other toxins, by the way), the chemical still poses a huge risk to our health and environment. While water bottle manufacturers calm our worries with misleading labels and claims, BPA is still seeping into our bloodstream through the receipts that most of us touch on a regular basis. Even handling paper currency, which is often in close contact with receipts, can be a health risk

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How worried should we be about receipts?

As much as I’d like to say that this warning about receipts is a product of overcautiousness, the unfortunate truth is that they do present a clear and present danger. In fact, studies suggest that exposure to thermal printer receipt paper is one of the primary routes by which BPA enters the body—and once it’s in there, it accumulates over time and causes progressively greater dysfunction.

The Center for Disease Control reports that they found BPA in over 90% of urine samples that were taken as a representative of the U.S. population.[2] For this reason—and because of the terrifying ease with which endocrine disruptors can disturb the entire body’s balance—many health experts believe that BPA (and its toxic cousins) can be linked to nearly every health issue facing our society.

And speaking of these toxic BPA analogues, some are even more toxic. Preliminary research has shown that bisphenol S (BPS) is up to one hundred times more toxic and endocrine-disrupting than BPA.[3] Thermal receipt paper contains both of them, as well as a number of other analogues, including PBS and BPSIP.

What you can do to protect yourself

The easy and obvious answer is to decline receipts whenever they’re offered to you. Doing so will probably feel like a paranoid overreaction at first, but just think of this comparison whenever you find yourself at checkout: handling BPA-laced receipts without gloves is like handling paint thinner or other hazardous liquids without proper precaution.

If you religiously use receipts to track your expenses, consider going digital. There’s a number of great smartphone apps that allow you to take pictures of receipts (or input totals manually) and keep track of all your expenses through one handy interface. You might just find that you enjoy not being buried under all those old receipts—and your body will thank you too.

Research has also shown that the absorption of BPA is highly potentiated by some of the chemicals in hand sanitizers, skin moisturizers, and other industrial cosmetic products. Sometimes these products even carry their own dose of BPA and other endocrine disruptors—so you should avoid them anyway. At the very least, be careful not to use any of these products right before or after touching a receipt. This means that washing and sanitizing your hands after touching a receipt could actually worsen the exposure. Staying healthy is tricky these days, isn’t it?

There are also a few ways you can lessen the effects of BPA toxicity. A particularly strong protective effect has been exhibited by certain foods and substances, including kimchi (because of its probiotic, microbiome-supporting capacity), genistein (a phytoestrogen that helps balance the endocrine system), and high-antioxidant teas.

Incorporating detoxification practices into your life is absolutely essential, as well. Read more about how to make detoxing work for you here and here, and read this article to learn more about endocrine disruptors.

You’ll want to try out these BPA-mitigating practices even if you’ve sworn off receipts. While staying away from contaminated thermal printer paper is a step in the right direction, you’ll still be exposed to BPA through rampant industrial pollution—so your body will need all the help it can get. With a little thought and effort, though, you can preserve your personal health and balance in a world that still has a tough time prioritizing either of these ideals.

 


References

[1] http://www.greenmedinfo.com/toxic-ingredient/bisphenol

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport_ExecutiveSummary.pdf

[3] http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2015/8/ehp.1409427.acco.pdf

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bpa-dangers - 18282321923_6fe75d16e9

Living—let alone thriving—in our toxic world can be awfully tricky.

As we’ve discussed in other articles, modern society is a veritable obstacle course of sneaky toxin sources. Nowadays, even the air we breathe and the water we drink is suspect.

While there are all sorts of nasty pollutants worthy of our concern, one class of chemicals is particularly worrisome: endocrine disruptors.

These noxious chemicals adversely affect the functioning of your hormones, the “messenger molecules” that coordinate nearly every complex process in your body. The importance of the endocrine system (and the hormones it produces) simply cannot be overstated—it regulates growth, metabolism (including nutrient absorption), fertility and reproduction, immune function, sleep and other circadian rhythms, mood, behavior, and the coherent functioning of nearly every tissue in the body. For this reason, health experts have warned that endocrine disruptors can be linked to almost every major health issue that we face.

Unfortunately, there’s a vast array of endocrine-disrupting substances that have planted themselves firmly in our industry-laden culture. They show up in cleaning products, industrial agriculture applications, cosmetics, and even food.

But the most widespread endocrine disruptor of all is bisphenol-A (BPA), a form of “fake estrogen” that hijacks the endocrine system and causes massive long-term health problems. The acute toxicity of this terrible substance is now openly acknowledged—but very little is being done to prevent it from saturating our environment.

Too little too late?

As evidence began to mount against BPA, it quickly became common knowledge that BPA-free plastic is the way to go. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a water bottle without a “BPA-Free” sticker slapped on it.

While this kind of initiative is a step in the right direction, it’s far from being a comprehensive solution. For starters, accumulating evidence suggests that the BPA alternatives used in many water bottles may be just as toxic and endocrine-disrupting as BPA itself.[1]

This allegation points to a frightening truth: that all plastics may be inherently problematic (not just types that contain BPA). And even if we assume for a moment that someone manages to produce a truly non-toxic water bottle—what about all the other ways in which plastic is used?

This thought is frightening precisely because plastic is an enormously important pillar of industrial society; it’s used for just about everything. This means that even if you swear off your personal use of plastic (especially BPA-containing plastic, and receptacles used for eating and drinking), you’ll still be affected by the massive amounts of BPA that industry inevitably pumps into the environment.

Researchers from the University of Missouri found that industrial sites all over the country release worrying quantities of BPA directly into our air and water.[2] It’s able to bind to dust and other particulates, and thus can disperse itself across vast distances. It’s also been discovered in tap water (so much for trustworthy public water treatment). Researchers have even shown that handling cash register receipts—which are saturated with BPA—can lead to elevated BPA levels in your bloodstream.[3]

And these steadily rising BPA levels have been strongly correlated with a whole host of degenerative conditions, including systemic inflammation, obesity, infertility, diabetes, asthma, compromised lung function, lung cancer, breast cancer, reproductive cancers, birth defects, calcification of the pineal gland, compromised gut flora, immune suppression, and more.

What you can do to fight back

While it’s nearly impossible to avoid BPA and other endocrine disruptors altogether, there’s still plenty you can do to protect yourself.

Eat and drink wisely. Avoid all conventional and GMO foods, which are often treated with endocrine-disrupting pesticides. Don’t buy fruits and vegetables that are wrapped in plastic (even if they’re organic), and avoid plastic food containers and cooking implements whenever possible. In fact, just avoid plastic altogether whenever possible; at the very least, avoid plastic items with a No. 3 or No. 7 recycling label. Drink purified water (even bottled water isn’t always safe).

Use hormone-balancing foods and supplements. BPA causes a build-up in excess estrogen within the body, which thus disorients the entire endocrine system. By incorporating naturally hormone-balancing foods into your diet, you can help restore your endocrine system to order. Try maca root (if you choose just one food, make it this one), turmeric, burdock, rhodiola, tulsi, beet root, cordyceps mushroom, reishi mushroom, and lion’s mane mushroom. For extra, more acute estrogen-balancing support, try these supplements: SAM-e, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), DIM, and quercetin.

Use detoxification practices. All of the foods and supplements listed above are already wonderfully detoxifying, but incorporating even more cleansing practices into your life will help ensure that you’re protected. Practice semi-regular fasting, use healing clays, eat an all-around detoxifying diet, exercise regularly, take cold showers, and spend more time in saunas.  

Support your pineal gland. The pineal gland is the center of a master detoxification system in the body, so it’s in your best interest to help it help you. Detoxification practices, avoidance of fluoridated water and toothpaste, avoidance of mercury-contaminated food and dental fillings, and forms of meditation that develop the awareness of the “third eye” are all incredibly helpful.

It could be some time before our society mends its toxic ways. In the meantime, following the advice above will help you stay protected from the unavoidable onslaught of BPA and its endocrine-disrupting cousins.

 


References

[1] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/06/bpa-free-plastics-tritan-nalgene-dangerous

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/21/bpa-exposure-hormone-disrupting-fda-missouri-study-bisphenol-endocrine

[3] http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2014/1022-thermal-paper-cash-register-receipts-account-for-high-bisphenol-a-bpa-levels-in-humans-mu-study-finds/

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