Posts Tagged ‘Plastics’

Posted on May 6, 2011 - by

Reduce Your Exposure to BPA in 7 Simple Steps

Image: flickr/suckamc

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a hormone-disrupting chemical that lurks in food can linings, plastic food and beverage containers, and a slate of other consumer products. It has been linked with serious effects on human health, from recurrent miscarriages in women and neurological changes in children to erectile dysfunction and hormonal changes in men. Chemical industry lobbying has kept regulators from banning the use of BPA, but there is good news. A 2010 study found that BPA levels in five families dropped dramatically (by 60% on average) after just three days of not eating canned goods and food in plastic packaging.  Here are several more steps you can take to reduce your exposure to BPA:

  1. Avoid drinking out of plastic bottles. Use unlined stainless steel ones instead.
  2. Avoid canned foods and those that are sold in plastic containers. Buy products in glass or cardboard “brick-packaging” for a BPA-free alternative. Choose dried beans instead of canned ones, and stick with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. If you can’t avoid canned fruits, vegetables, or beans, rinse the contents well before serving.
  3. Store leftovers in glass containers instead of plastic ones.
  4. Never microwave food in plastic containers or while covered in plastic wrap. Use glass or ceramic containers instead.
  5. Don’t take receipts or wash your hands after touching one. The thermal paper used by many retailers for receipts contains high concentrations of BPA.
  6. Check recycling numbers on plastics. Types 3 and 7 are likely to contain BPA, so avoid these.
  7. For Parents with Young Children: Unfortunately, many BPA alternatives are still being tested for safety and it is difficult to determine what products are truly better. For developing brains and bodies, cut to the chase and avoid plastics altogether.
    • If you feed your infant formula, choose the powdered version instead of the liquid kind.
    • Use glass or stainless steel containers for bottles and sippy cups.
    • Avoid plastic toys, especially items that will be put into mouths.

Find out more about the harmful effects of BPA here.

Want to take action? Sign our petition to pressure Walmart to go BPA-free.

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Posted on May 6, 2011 - by

BPA: Ubiquitous, Toxic…and (for you) Avoidable

Image: flickr/stevendepolo

You’ll never see it on an ingredient label, but chances are you’ve consumed bisphenol-A (BPA) in your food or drinks this week. The chemical is ubiquitous, found in everything from food can linings and plastic drink containers to receipts and DVDs. It is one of the most widely manufactured chemicals in history: more than 6 billion pounds of it are produced yearly. The problem? BPA can and does leach from those can linings and plastic containers. As a consequence, roughly 90% of Americans carry measurable amounts of BPA in our bodies at any given time. Why should you care? It’s toxic, and may be affecting your health.

Hundreds of research studies have shown that the chemical mimics the hormone estrogen in the body, disrupting the natural functioning of the hormonal system. This is serious cause for concern. Higher concentrations of BPA in the body have been associated with recurrent miscarriages, altered gendered behaviors in children, and altered hormone levels in men. Workers who had been exposed to BPA on the job reported significantly higher rates of erectile dysfunction than those who had not been. Other studies have linked it to heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.

In response to this growing body of evidence, Canada added BPA to its list of toxic chemicals in 2010, paving the way for a complete ban on its use in that country. Canada has already banned the chemical in plastic baby bottles, and a similar ban in the EU went into force this March. In the US, intense lobbying on the part of the chemical industry has stalled or killed bills that would ban BPA’s use plastic food packaging, drink containers, baby bottles, and sippy cups (though some states have passed such measures on their own).

Some food companies and product manufacturers have responded to public outcry by removing BPA from some or all of their products. Heinz and ConAgra have both pledged to remove BPA from all their products in the future and have developed a timeline for doing so. Toys R Us, Target, and Sears are among the national retail chains phasing out baby bottles that contain BPA.

At FRESH, we’ve launched a campaign to pressure Walmart to remove BPA from its products. If they commit to phasing out BPA, it will effectively force the entire packaging industry to change. Walmart lead the way when it banned baby bottles with BPA, and it’s time they did the same with food packaging. Click here to sign our petition for BPA-free products at Walmart.

In the meantime, there are several simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure to BPA.  Find out here.

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Posted on March 4, 2011 - by

A Plastic State of Mind: Ban the Bag

Image: 30gms

One day, retailers across China awoke to discover that the government had banned giving away plastic bags for free. From June 2008 on, consumers would be required to pay explicitly for plastic bags, and the cost had to be clearly marked and could not be hidden in the price of the goods.

The production, sale and use of ultrathin plastic bags (less than 0.025 mm thick) was banned outright. Consumers were urged to use shopping baskets and reusable cloth bags instead.

Can you imagine what life would be like if plastic bags were banned in the U.S.?

We lack the sweeping legislative power of a centralized government, but San Francisco has long had a ban on plastic bags, and a congressional battle is underway in Oregon for the state to become the first to ban plastic bags. Shoppers would then be required to bring their own bags, or pay a nickel for a paper bag. But it is not obvious that paper bags are any more environmentally friendly than plastic bags—they require 4x the energy of plastic bags to produce and in a covered landfill, they do not degrade substantially faster than a plastic bag (Reuse It). On the other hand, the push for paper bags can be seen as a move to support Oregon’s timber industry.

The real solution is reusable bags. Bringing your own bag guarantees that you will not be adding to waste streams in the near future, is cost-effective and can be stylish to boot. Color-coordinating shopping totes with vegetable color, anyone?

Finally, I recently came across a music video titled “Plastic State of Mind,” a parody of Jay-Z’s “New York State of Mind.” With the smooth rhymes and hip aplomb of the original, director Ben Zolno explains exactly why we should ban single-use plastic bags.

Plastic State of Mind / Ben Zolno


Posted on March 3, 2011 - by

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

Image: Chris Jordan

Bottles, saran wrap, sneakers, car bumpers and beach balls. We are living in a plastic world, and though the ubiquitous amounts of plastic may be fine for people on land, there is one place where plastic definitely does not belong—the ocean.

In the L.A. Times’ “Altered Oceans” series, Kenneth Weiss investigates the mountains of plastic and trash clogging our seas. Almost 90% of the trash floating in the ocean is plastic, and 80% of this comes from land, washed into rivers and then out to sea. The remaining waste comes from ships, which illegally throw floats, equipment and other trash overboard to avoid paying disposal fees in port (LAT).

What happens to plastic that gets washed into the sea? When exposed to sunlight, plastic photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, but never fully breaks down. The polymer fragments remain in the upper column of the ocean, creating a “soup” of suspended plastic particulate.

Hidden in the flyover zone between San Francisco and Hawaii lies the Great Pacific Trash Patch. This floating vortex of plastic pollution drifts in an area twice the size of Texas. Here, the currents bring plastic debris from all corners of the Pacific, where it will lazily sunbathe and disintegrate into fragments. “It moves around like a big animal without a leash,” said oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. “When it gets close to an island, the garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic” (LAT).

Tragically, some of the plastic will end up in the bellies of seabirds and around the necks of marine animals. Albatross chicks are particularly vulnerable because they are inadvertently fed plastic by their well-meaning parents. The bits of plastic can puncture a chick’s esophagus and fill its stomach, leaving no room for food or water. And they are not the only victims. It is estimated that one million seabirds choke or get tangled in netting or other debris every year, along with 100,000 seals, sea turtles, sea lions, whales and other animals (LAT).

Disturbed by the amount of plastic that collects in the stomachs of birds? What can you do to use and throw away less plastic?

Drop me a line at


Posted on February 1, 2011 - by

No Rubbish Ideas: Rethinking Household Waste

How much trash did you generate last week? In an impressive feat of conservation, last year the Strauss family managed to pare down its waste disposal to merely one bag through vigorous recycling, growing their own food, and buying directly from producers.

To minimize packaging waste, the family opts to bring their own containers to the butcher and deli, and puts loose fruit and vegetables into reusable bags. All food leftovers are turned into new dishes or composted, and the lights run partly on solar energy. Cereal packaging is transformed into sandwich bags, and plastic ties from toys are used to stake tomato plants.

The average American produces 4.5 lbs of waste every day. About 31% of that is packaging and container waste. Food scraps account for 12.7% of waste, and only 2.5% of that gets composted. Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled each year. However, it costs $4000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags, while the recycled product can be sold for only $32. (Source: Clean Air Council)

Rachelle Strauss reflected on the progress they’ve made since they first embarked on their zero waste project.

”It’s taken us 18 months to get to this level and we’ve put a lot of determination and effort into it. But if everyone just takes a few more steps towards recycling they can make a huge difference across the globe. A simple first step is not taking plastic bags at the supermarket and finding out from your local council where recycling points are.

”You can’t just buy something because it’s on offer or because it looks nice but you need to think seriously about how you’re going to throw it away when you’ve finished with it.”

At the end of the year, the only things that were thrown out were a few razor blades, broken toys and old felt tip pens.

You may not be ready to commit to that level of packaging austerity, but there are several steps you can take to reduce the amount of food and packaging waste you produce.

  • Find out how you can take advantage of municipal recycling programs.
  • Support local farmers and green retailers who use ecofriendly packaging.
  • Purchase products that use smart packaging, with biodegradeable polymers and minimalistic design.
  • Reuse packages to store other products.
  • Talk to your friends and family about the magnitude and consequences of our waste problem.
  • Think ahead when purchasing groceries and plan meals so that your food is used before it spoils. Take inventory of your refrigerator regularly.
  • Cooking can be a community experience! If you are a single-person household, pot luck with your neighbors to share excess food.

Is the Strauss family batty or ingenious? Do you regularly bring bags to the grocery store? Write on the backs of every scrap of paper? Send e-cards rather than buying Hallmark? What other steps do you take to reduce waste?

For more information on the Strauss’ feat, check out their website at


Posted on November 17, 2009 - by

You Are What You Eat!


Bill Couzens HeadshotBy: Bill Couzens
Bill Couzens is the Founder of Less Cancer

In the work to raise awareness for unnecessary and preventable exposures that may contribute to health effects including cancer, food should be considered.  Consumers must move away from the practice of pulling foods off the shelf with little knowledge of what they and their families eating.

Scientists have documented many examples of environmental exposures that are known to increase cancer risk include: smoking, UV light, asbestos, some pesticides, hormones, metals, vinyl chloride, gasoline, and small particulates from automobile and coal-fired power plants, to name a few.

What about contaminants in food?

Dr Maryann Donovan from the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cancer Institute (CEO-UPCI) says that  “consumers do need to become more selective when shopping for all products but especially food.  Scientists at the CEO-UPCI have measured contaminants in canned food at levels that can cause biological effects in laboratory studies. There are a number of published studies showing that some ingredients in products that we use in our homes, schools and communities are toxic and some have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory studies. Examples of possible food contaminants can include pesticide residues or bisphenol A. (BPA), a component of the resin that lines some cans and can leach into food”.

BPA, for instance, can be found in many of the canned foods sold in the United States. The Environmental Working Group tested 97 canned foods and found detectable levels of BPA in more than half of them.  The highest concentrations were in canned meats, pasta and soups.  Although there is no evidence that the levels of BPA in canned food cause health effects in humans, BPA is one of many chemicals in the environment that acts like the hormone estrogen.  Because low levels of hormones can have profound effects, exposure to hormone-like chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, is especially concerning.  Pregnant women and children may want to limit their consumption of canned foods to avoid this source of BPA exposure.

It is important to protect children.  By making better food choices we can reduce their exposure to a host of unhealthy ingredients and contaminants. It is important to remember that children are not small adults, rather, they are a developing version of an adult. Simply put, children are under construction. They are unfinished and their developing systems are quite fragile.   We know, for instance, that in children the brain continues to develop into their twenties, and this makes their brains potentially more vulnerable to toxicants. They also breathe much more rapidly, so they take in more toxins through their lungs.  For children, depending on the exposure, some of the first body systems to show negative health effects can be their neurological and respiratory systems.

Food choice presents an opportunity to make change and begin the process of providing healthy choices for your family, but especially for young children. One easy first step is to seek out your local farmers market so that you can buy fresh food that is minimally processed. For myself and my family I always buy local first and, when available, I buy certified organic. I do this because I want to reduce the unnecessary and preventable exposures to unhealthy ingredients like sugars, fats, preservatives; contaminants in canned food;  genetically modified (GM) foods; and foods containing antibiotic and pesticide residues. While farmers markets can be a safe alternative for tracking down healthier foods, shopping there can also be a fun family adventure!