Sep. 14. 2018
Health Articles
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

Plastic is one of many culprits that is doing more harm than good to our environment and here’s how to reduce single-use plastic.

Why does plastic matter when it comes to nourishing our bodies, nutrition, and health? Well, a lot. If functional nutrition has taught me anything as a health professional, it’s that everything is related and impacts every pillar of the system, especially when one is out of whack.

Pollution is a problem that’s causing our earth to get out of whack. The same can be said for our environment, the health of our oceans, the bee population, and how everything impacts our agriculture, the air we breathe and the food we eat. Although politics are of course involved with these issues, this is more than a political issue, it’s an issue about our treatment of the earth and how we give back as much as we take from it.

I feel personally connected to this mission of living a life with a lower carbon footprint, however slow and baby steps it’s taking me to do so.  Since we talk about taking care of ourselves here at NS often, then it’s only right to speak about taking care of our environment -starting with how to reduce single-use plastic.

What Is Plastic?

We all know and use items made from plastic every day, this is just fact and part of our modern day consumerism and life. The problem is plastic is not biodegradable. Which means it doesn’t break down into smaller compounds to be reused as compostable takeout cartons do. Larger plastics do manually break down into tiny particles about as small as sesame seeds which are called microplastics.

Microplastics, not to be confused with microbeads, which are intentionally manufactured to be small tiny beads that are typically used in beauty products — like facial exfoliants and washes (1)(2). Microbeads are so tiny, they can pass through our water filtration systems and end up in the oceans and in the mouths of marine life. There are many studies showing just how likely it is that marine fish are consuming microbeads and microfibers of plastic from our trash, which is obviously not a food group for marine life to thrive on.

This is obviously harmful to the fish/marine life directly, but how might it impact human health if we consume fish? The most common source of microplastics for humans is found in the food we eat specifically with seafood (4). Estimates in recent studies suggest that and the average individual consumption of shellfish can lead to the ingestion of up to 11,000 microplastics annually (3)(5).

Although there’s no definitive research showing exactly how the consumption of eating microplastics impacts human health after consuming fish or marine life that have consumed plastic, what we do know from the research involving animals or test tubes, shows potential harm to human health (6).

Plastic In Food Packaging

Another subject on this topics is about the chemicals found in plastics such as BPA (bisphenol A) which is a chemical found in plastic which some studies show a connection between the consumption of BPA (i.e. the chemical leached from plastic into food) may negatively impact reproductive hormones especially in women by binding to estrogen receptors (7) (10).

One of the ways you can decrease your exposure to BPA is to purchase cans lined with BPA free substances or look for BPA-free labels on common plastic goods such as bottles, containers, or cans (8). Also, don’t microwave any plastics that contain BPA.

Some countries ban BPA, but currently, the US doesn’t — from Scientific American “hundreds of scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals for decades have demonstrated that BPA can produce adverse health effects in test animals at very low doses and provided circumstantial evidence that it can harm humans. A 2007 consensus statement from a 38-member scientific panel in the journal Reproductive Toxicology concluded that there was “great cause for concern” about the potential for adverse effects in humans.” (9)

Why Does Reducing Plastic Waste Matter?

A study in 2015 in the journal Science, reported in 2010, nearly 9 million tons of plastic and trash ended up in the world’s oceans and Jenna Jambeck environmental engineering professor at the University of Georgia, calculates this amount will happen each year (11).

By the time we approach 2025, it’s estimated that our oceans will contain 155 million metric tons of plastic — let’s just let that sink in for a moment (11).

Huge corporations have taken to ban straws, from Walt Disney to the most notable which is Starbucks. Starting in 2020, Starbucks will phase out plastic straws in all of their coffee shops nationwide which will save our oceans and environment from 1 billion plastic straws alone. This is great news and a huge step forward, but banning plastic straws isn’t the core of the issue nor will it help our environment with a significant impact — plastic straws accounts for 4% of the plastic trash per piece, but not by weight (12).

A couple stats that may leave you surprised by the PlasticOceans.org is:

  • Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide
  • More than one million bags are used every minute
  • A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes

What will make an impact is us, our communities, our actions, and how we continue to take care of the earth in the way it provides for us.

How To Reduce Single-Use Plastic

If you’ve seen the plastic-free challenges floating around on the internet in various communities, but thought, wow that’s too difficult or there’s no way I can go from how I live now to completely not using plastic, then I hear you. I felt the same and felt overwhelmed at the thought of changing our lifestyle overnight, but the urge and passion to help the environment motivated me to make the transition. So, we started slow.

We started by cleaning our home of extraneous plastic items, bottles, packaging, etc. that we didn’t need to use and recycled them. This process of getting rid of things can also make you more mindful of the next time you go grocery shopping or are purchasing anything in particular.

Granted, we have a small operation here at Nutrition Stripped with one office and an environmentally aware team, but we get a lot of samples sent to us. One important way we’ve scaled back as a company has included a tighter screening process of who sends us items and clearly disclosing to brands and companies that if they don’t meet guidelines we communicate with them about recycled materials and skipping the branding “fluff” that comes with packages, then we can’t accept the products.

Since implementing this company policy last year, we’ve not only cut down on samples but more importantly, we’re taking one small step that helps bring awareness to the issue and have had large corporations inspired by our policy to put greener variations of their packaging in place. Go team go!

Practical Ways To Reduce Plastic Use and Reuse

  1. Ditch the single-use plastic bags, straws, containers, etc. and use reusable ones!
  2. Buy a great reusable water bottle and take it with you to refill all day.
  3. Buy a reusable straw: from BPA-free plastic straws you can use over and over again, to glass, to metal.
  4. Use cloth produce bags for shopping (and make sure you don’t forget them at home, leave them in your car!)
  5. Use cloth or canvas tote bags to haul your groceries from the store or market to your home.
  6. Restocking your pantry? Bring your jars from home, weigh prior to filling to mark the weight of the jar, fill it up with your favorite bulk bin food items and you’re good to go.
  7. Instead of plastic baggies, use reusable bags from Stasher.
  8. Instead of using plastic wrap for food, try out beeswax wrap.
  9. Make your own frozen food and skip the frozen food aisle which is loaded with plastic packaging.
  10. Ask companies that you’re ordering from online for recyclable packaging.
  11. Skip plastic ware and use bamboo or metal and wash it each time instead of throwing it away.
  12. Clean under the kitchen sink! There are so many household cleaners we use in the US in plastic bottles, try making your own with a vinegar combo in a glass bottle that’s multi-purpose.
  13. Recycle! This might sound elementary, but so many people don’t recycle and it’s as easy as setting up a separate trash bin in your home designated for recycling only.

Contribute!

We’d all love to read your comments and hear what you have to say about plastic use, how you’ve decreased the amount you use if you recycle, and any other experiences or stories you’d like to share on this important topic. Leave it in the comments below and let’s start talking about this family!

We have the power to make a positive impact on our environment and if it takes baby steps from you, me, and our community then that’s a great start and it’s good enough.

x McKel + team NS

References:
  1. NOAA. Historical Maps and Charts audio podcast. National Ocean Service website, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/podcast/july17/nop08-historical-maps-charts.htm
  2. Lisa S. Fendall, Mary A. Sewell. Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers. Mar Pollut Bull. 2009 Aug; 58(8): 1225–1228. Published online 2009 May 28. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.04.025
  3. Plastic Pollution Statistics 2018 | Reduce Impact. (2018). Reduceimpact.org. https://reduceimpact.org/plastic-pollution-statistics-2018/
  4. Cole M, Webb H, Lindeque PK, Fileman ES, Halsband C, Galloway TS. Isolation of microplastics in biota-rich seawater samples and marine organisms. Scientific Reports. 2014;4:4528. doi:10.1038/srep04528.
  5. Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe, Colin R. Janssen. Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environ Pollut. 2014 Oct; 193: 65–70. Published online 2014 Jul 5. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2014.06.010
  6. D. M. Brown, M. R. Wilson, W. MacNee, V. Stone, K. Donaldson. Size-dependent proinflammatory effects of ultrafine polystyrene particles: a role for surface area and oxidative stress in the enhanced activity of ultrafines. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2001 Sep 15; 175(3): 191–199. doi: 10.1006/taap.2001.9240
  7. Johanna R. Rochester. Bisphenol A and human health: a review of the literature. Reprod Toxicol. 2013 Dec; 42: 132–155. Published online 2013 Aug 30. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2013.08.008
  8. Tinne Geens, Dominique Aerts, Carl Berthot, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Leo Goeyens, Philippe Lecomte, Guy Maghuin-Rogister, Anne-Madeleine Pironnet, Luc Pussemier, Marie-Louise Scippo, et al. A review of dietary and non-dietary exposure to bisphenol-A. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Oct; 50(10): 3725–3740. Published online 2012 Aug 4. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.07.059
  9. Krimsky, S. Plastics in Our Diet. Scientific American, 18(4), 30-32. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanearth0908-30
  10. Rudel RA, Gray JM, Engel CL, et al. Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethyhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119(7):914-920. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003170.
  11. Jenna R. Jambeck, Roland Geyer, Chris Wilcox, Theodore R. Siegler, Miriam Perryman, Anthony Andrady, Ramani Narayan, Kara Lavender Law. Marine pollution. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science. 2015 Feb 13; 347(6223): 768–771. doi: 10.1126/science.1260352
  12. Why Starbucks, Disney, and Tom Brady are all shunning plastic straws. (2018). Vox. https://www.vox.com/2018/6/25/17488336/starbucks-plastic-straw-ban-ocean-pollution