Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why I try to avoid plastic...

My reasons to avoid plastic:
  • We are trying not to lead a disposable life
  • Plastic isn't very “classy” - my opinion only
  • The feel of plastic is usually “cheap”
  • Less plastic = less petroleum usage = less dependence on the middle east
  • Plastic contains carcinogens
Now, most of my friends will tell you (and I would tend to agree with them) that I have probably gone a bit overboard on the "no plastic" thing. So sue me, finding different ways to do things is a challenge and it is one I enjoy. It gives me something to do.

It is amazing the things you never think about until you have a reason to. I never realized how much the presence of plastic has completely inundated our lives and surroundings. It is pretty much impossible to go completely "plastic free". The keyboard I am typing on is made of plastic, my telephone is plastic, the list goes on and on. Even when I try to be conscientious and research what I am buying - the plastic sneaks up on me. Just the other day I purchased a bottle of olive oil. It was in a glass bottle with a metal lid...I thought I was doing well. I got it home and opened it to find a plastic pouring spout hiding under the metal lid.

Not that I think that the plastic pouring spout (not that alone, anyway) is going to give me cancer or destroy our planet, it is just that it proves the point that you cannot get away from plastic in today's society.

Several research studies have found that when plastic comes in contact with certain foods, molecules of the chemicals in the plastic can leach into the food or beverage.

Certain characteristics of the food item can make it more likely pick up plastic molecules:
  • The more liquid a food is, the more it touches the plastic, so the more opportunity it has to pick up plastic molecules.
  • Acid foods, such as tomato sauce, appear to be particularly interactive with plastic.
  • If you heat a food item in a plastic container—even if the container is microwave safe—the transference of plastic from the container to the food is even more likely.
When molecules of plastic—or more properly, molecules of the chemicals that get added to plastics during manufacturing—get into our bodies, it's not a good thing. They can cause unwanted effects in the human body.(from

So what is a foodie like myself to do?

I started by purging my kitchen of plastic. I got rid of it all...right down to the very last storage bowl, utensil or measuring cup. I found that as I (slowly) replaced these items with (better quality, no doubt) glass or stainless steel counterparts, I actually felt better about cooking! It was more aesthetically pleasing to flip my pancakes with a stainless steel turner than with a flimsy nylon turner.

For food storage I initially compromised a bit. I purchased glass storage bowls that had plastic lids. I made sure to never put the food high enough so that it would touch the food so as to avoid leaching.

Then one day it dawned on me, (I sometimes have these "light bulb" moments, it's actually quite humorous) why not use glass canning jars!?

And to take that one step further, instead of recycling the glass jars that some of our food comes in (peanut butter, pesto (which I should be making homemade but can't get my basil to grow enough so that I can), salsa (which again, I should be making homemade but I can't seem to get it to taste right!) why not use THEM as well!

Some of these jars are actually quite attractive and some are actually intended just for this purpose (the Pesto I buy come in an actual Kerr canning jar).

Another idea is to just leave it in the pot you cooked it in, put the lid on and store it in the fridge that way. One less thing to wash! (It probably comes at no surprise that I'm a bit anal about what type of cookware I use as well...we will save that for another post).

Just an interesting FYI...Have you ever noticed the little numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles and other plastics? Those tell you what the plastic is made of and also indicates where it can be recycled (some facilities only take certain numbers of plastics).

Safer (not safe but safer) plastics are:

#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) - usually for soft drinks, water bottles, ketchup and salad dressing, peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars

#2 high density polyethylene (HDPE) - used mostly for milk, water and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash and retail bags
#4 low density polyethylene (LDPE) - bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles

#5 polypropylene (PP) - margarine tubs

Plastics to avoid include:

#3 polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
- 2nd most commonly used plastic in the world. Many toys are PVC too and kids put everything in their mouths so watch out for those!

#6 polystyrene (PS) - foam & Styrofoam

#7 other (usually polycarbonate) - many drinking cups are made of this, baby bottles, big water jugs, kid's sippie cups (more on this issue later)


Kirsten said...

I'm with you the as-little-plastic-as-possible thing. I found out that, in addition to the reasons you listed (some of which I may have missed because I just woke up and have zero attention span) there are also estrogen mimics in some plastics which are having an adverse effect on our bodies (including decreasing sperm counts in men), and there is a plastic stew in the Pacific which is killing off marine life, and ultimatley making it's way back up the food chain. We're eating plastic with our fish. These are just a few more of the many reasons to try to go plastic free. Here's a link to a story which supports this, and which is from a different source than I had originally seen.

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