plastics

File Under "Reduce"

Do you ever find yourself buying or not buying things because of the packaging? I only buy grapes at the store maybe once a year because I hate those new, non-recyclable plastic bags they put them in. I buy the giant-est natural peanut butter because it comes in a glass jar and isn't pre-mixed with other fats. I buy mustard in glass bottles. Relish. I tried to buy the yogurt that comes in glass, until the price broke me. I hate buying bags of salad greens (non-recyclable), squirm when I see potluck offerings in storebought plastic containers, and light up with delight when I see unpackaged foods, or produce in cardboard containers. As if I needed another reason to love most of the offerings at the Market.

[Photo by  Giuseppe Famiani  on  Unsplash

Yes, some plastic is recyclable, and you can find what to do with which form of plastic on King County's website, but even recyclable plastic can only move "down the chain." It can only be re-made into something else, not the same thing again. That's why all those plastic containers become fleeces and fake-wood for decks and furniture. 

I love how some of our berry farmers offer $1 off your next purchase if you return their bigger cardboard carriers (if only I could remember to bring them). And I love my reusable mesh produce bags, of which I don't have enough, and which can also double as a "delicates" bag to go through the laundry. These can be found online or at certain grocery stores.

If the following is true--

[Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

[Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

and I suspect 500 years might be optimistic--why not save plastic for making things that we'd like to have around for 500+ years?

I might have mentioned that it was time to clean out my in-laws' house, an activity that must rank right up there with root canals and knee-replacement surgeries. Some items were sold. Some items were donated. A very few items could be recycled. Much, much, much was thrown away. But a couple things we kept, like this deer:

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It must have been bought by or given to my husband's grandmother because it's that super lightweight, translucent early plastic (celluloid) that would probably go up in flames. One of a pair that used to reside in my mother-in-law's hutch. The other deer must have gotten crushed and will spend the rest of its remaining 400+ years in pieces in the landfill.

Another keeper was the Seth Thomas Adamantine clock:

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See the faux marble on either side of the clock face? Plastic. From around about 1895. Plastic can be marvelous. Its longevity can be a good thing. Just not the way we use it now.

As I look out on another smoky day on our not-very-disposable earth, I think the little choices we make, the little differences we make, continue to be so very important. Reduce - Reuse- Recycle, these things remain. But the greatest of these is Reduce.

Phthinking about Phthalates

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I was at a potluck buffet the other day, where a gal was going down the line looking for vegan options. I pointed out the Asian Pasta Salad I'd brought, and she pointed out the Artichoke-Sundried-Tomato Pasta Salad she'd brought. But when I also directed her to the fried tofu squares (mentioning these three dishes will give you totally the wrong impression about this potluck--believe me, there were plenty of the usual suspects: meatballs, mac & cheese, etc.), she said she couldn't do tofu either because of the way soybeans mimic estrogen. I didn't ask further questions, but I assumed she was a cancer survivor avoiding soy for its possible feeding of cancer growth. Sites like fredhutch.com and ww5.komen.org say soy is fine in moderation because no conclusive link has been found, but you can hardly blame people for wanting to be extra cautious. Not always easy to do, considering how ubiquitous soy has become in processed foods. Whether or not soy wreaks hormonal havoc, however, increasing evidence points to an equally common substance proven to mess with our endocrine system: phthalates. According to the CDC, phthalates are the chemicals "used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break." And they are everywhere, from vinyl tubing at the hospital to packaging materials to shampoo to the pool floatie you use in the summer. And while we humans haven't eaten the stuff directly (no "phthalate frittata" or "phthalate galette" recipes yet), we still get plenty in our systems.

Phloating on phthalates -- but I still want the pizza slice, Toyspring.com!

That dish we've covered in plastic wrap? We just added phthalates to the ingredients. That packaged food we bought at the store? More phthalates. As you know, I've been trying to cut back on plastics and packaging, but a quick mental inventory of our fridge and pantry reveal:

  • about half my produce in plastic bags;
  • bread in the freezer--each in its own phthalate-soft plastic bag;
  • homemade waffles in a Ziploc in the freezer;
  • homemade cookies in a Ziploc in the freezer;
  • cooking oil (not olive) in a clear plastic bottle;
  • tortilla chips in a clear plastic bag;
  • breakfast cereals with plastic inner bags.

Bummer. We eat just about all of those every day.

On the plus side, our mustard, mayo, relish, peanut butter, yogurt, half-and-half, and other fridge standbys are all in glass jars. They cost more, but they don't have to be bought that often.

I'm (kinda) happy to learn the solid, opaquer plastics like milk gallon jugs and sour cream containers do NOT contain phthalates. Maybe that will balance out the liquid soap, shampoos, and lotions our family uses, which contain phthalates, phthalates, and more phthalates.

And then there are the phthalates we get from fast food. Like mercury building in a fish, fast food picks up phthalates at every stage, from its shipping, covering, and packing, to its prep at the hands of gloved employees, to its delivery, often with another side of plastic. A Business Recorder article quotes a public health professor as saying, "People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 per cent higher."

So what, you say? What can omnipresent phthalates do to us, especially since we "pee them out" as we go along? Well, back to the old endocrine disruption I started with. The CDC is still saying the effects of phthalates are "unknown," but another government agency, the NIH, classifies them as "suspected endocrine disruptors." And how exactly might they disrupt us?

Endocrine disruptors interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, or elimination of the body’s natural hormones. They can mimic naturally occurring hormones, potentially causing overproduction or underproduction of hormones. They may also interfere or block the way natural hormones and their receptors are made or controlled.

If you've ever had your hormones out of whack, the last thing you want to hear is that something you're eating or exposing yourself to might lead to your hormones getting out of whack. As a person with three adolescents in the house, I, for one, do not need further convincing that out-of-whack hormones should be avoided at all costs. They never, never lead to anything good.

So how can we de-phthalate, or at least reduce our phthalate exposure?

  • Make your own food more often, from scratch ingredients;
  • Reduce soft plastic use with inert, reusable materials. I'll be buying more nylon produce bags and doing a little more wrapping in wax paper and foil for the freezer. I threw out my plastic microwave cover and replaced it with a glass crock-pot lid and paper towels. And I'll be replacing the reusable plastic "shower cap" style bowl covers I've had for years with silicone covers.

It's a strange, plastic world we live in, and there's no escaping it entirely, but for our own health we can shoot for coming in on the less-plasticky end of the spectrum.