Road To Good Health: Kicking Plastic Out Of Your House

Posted: September 24, 2014

The first step to a healthier home is getting rid of plastic! Here’s why you should, and the simple ways in which you can kick plastic out of your house.

Sanjana Ramachandran

Plastic is that necessary evil in our urban lives – right from the bottles that carry our water to the airtight containers that keep our food. A life without plastic seems infeasible, simply with the huge amount of default packaging that our consumption today entails. But here’s an overwhelming reason to move beyond plastics in your household, even the ones labelled safe: Your child’s health.




Several recent studies, including one by researchers from the Columbia University, have found evidence that links phthalates, a compound commonly found in food packaging items, to a highly increased risk of asthma in children. The results are staggering: the study found that a children exposed to high levels of phthalates when in the womb are 70% more likely to develop asthma. Phthalates are chemical binders that are mainly used as plasticizers, which are additives to plastic used to increase their flexibility and durability. You’ll find them in household cleaners, personal care products and food packaging items, as well as insecticides and pesticides.

Mothers would have most likely come across these phthalates, researchers believe, in household items made of plastic, any packaging items that contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and even in personal care items such as nail polish and perfume.

Face it—all plastics leak

Plastic is neither an inert substance, nor is it non-toxic. Its many components have been shown to leach into food or beverages that are stored in them, to various degrees, depending on their use. Even those plastics that advertise themselves as BPA-free are not completely safe, because it has been a matter of debate that they have been tested under real-world conditions (like running the plastics through dishwashers, or heating in microwaves), meaning they can still disrupt hormones, if tested positive for oestrogen activity.

Unfortunately, almost all the plastic we come across in our day-to-day lives contain some sort of toxin: Water bottles made from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) contain acetaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen according to the EPA, which can be absorbed into the content of the bottles. Similarly, cooking oil and salad dressing bottles are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), whose plasticizers (lead, cadmium, mercury, and phthalates, among others) are also reactive with the food stored in them.

Plastic is used to store food all around the world, but it may be time to look for alternatives | Pic Courtesy: storybookinit.blogspot.com

Plastic might be the most popular way to store food all over, but it’s time to look for alternatives | Pic Courtesy: storybookinit.blogspot.com

Your water bottle may actually be causing those mood swings!

The primary health concern that arises from these types of chemical reactions is that plastic’s components can mimic the body’s natural hormones, primarily oestrogen, causing major imbalances. BPA, one of plastic’s most prominent ingredients and commonly found in water bottles and food cans, has long been under the scanner for causing a host of medical issues such as early-onset eczema, respiratory problems, and reproductive disorders such as infertility, and the feminizing of male organs in the foetal stage. Phthalates have become associated with changes in the development of the male brain, and being responsible for genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone levels.

Although Indian studies on the subject are comparatively low in number, awareness on the subject does seem to have seen an increase in recent times, and this news video talks about the dangers of consuming tea and coffee from plastic cups.

4 ways in which you can say goodbye to plastics at home

Young children and pregnant women, the focus group of most of these studies, are at the most risk of using plastic excessively, right from milk bottles to tiffin boxes. So while it may seem like switching to healthier food storage options would require drastic household changes, there are some simple habits to adopt in order to safeguard your food:

1. Don’t store food in plastic containers

Even if your food items were in plastic packages when you bought them, it is safer to switch their storage to the several other options there are to store food.

  • Glass: Besides being healthier, glass containers are just as easy as plastic to keep clean, and they don’t absorb food smells or colours. There are several varieties of glass now available in the market that can be microwaved or placed in a dishwasher.
  • Ceramic: Like glass, ceramic is a versatile storage option with many uses. They are inert and non-reactive to food, and most common ceramics are also re-heatable and microwave friendly. If, however, you have kids at home and are worried about them breaking things or cutting themselves, there’s always metal.
  • Metal containers: While they aren’t transparent, metal containers have the advantage of being far more durable than glass, for those parents who are worried about their children always breaking things. Durability isn’t restricted to plastic, and metals such as stainless steel have traditionally been used to cook and store things in.
  • Aluminium foil: Recyclable aluminum foil is another eco-friendly option for wrapping foods such as sandwiches and rotis, with the added convenience of being portable. This option is perfect for people on-the-go, and foil does not leech into the foods it touches. The life of a piece of foil can be extended by washing it in soapy, hot water, also saving you money!
  • Cloth bags: For storing bulk dry good items such as rice and grains, cloth bags make good replacements for plastic. There are cloth bags available which are lined with linseed oil or beeswax, meant for the purpose of storing food, in which food such as cookies and sandwiches can be kept. The beeswax prevents air from entering the bag, keeping food items fresher.

2. Re-think your personal care items

It might seem impossible to simply avoid all scented products, most of which contain phthalates, but you can go natural. Plant extracts are easy on the skin and readily absorbed by our bodies, and most homemade cosmetics can be stored in a refrigerator. Natural ingredients such as honey, milk, and aloe have a reputation for their use in skin-care, and making your own cosmetics from these is easier than you might think – mascara can be made from coconut oil and charcoal, and you can use a small paint brush for application! But if it still seems like too much of a change, you can ease into it by picking one or two cosmetic items that you feel like you cannot do without, before going healthy all the way.

3. Consider alternative cleaning liquids

Most household materials have high concentrations of phthalates. Because they’re volatile and can easily get into the air, they are usually used in cleaning liquids and perfumes for the resulting fragrance. Inhalation of these fumes is one route of exposure to phthalates, and using other cleaning options is the surest way to be safe.

  • Baking soda: A paste of baking soda and water can clean appliances without the side effects of using chemicals, and a combination of ingredients, including baking soda, salt and borax powder, can clean the toughest stains. Here’s how you can learn to make it yourself.
  • Citrus infused vinegar: Fill a jar with citrus peels and pour undiluted white vinegar over them. If you leave the mixture for up to two weeks and strain out the natural vinegar, what you have is a natural cleaner that can be used to clean windows, mop floors, and disinfect surfaces!

4. Make your own natural air freshener

With a little bit of effort, using completely natural ingredients, you can altogether eliminate the hazards of using commercial air fresheners. In a medium saucepan, simmer a quart of water along with your chosen combination of aromatic ingredients. Here are some examples:

  • 1 sliced lemon, 2 tablespoons rosemary and a dash of vanilla.
  • 1 sliced lime and 1 piece chopped ginger root.
  • 1 sliced orange, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and a dash of nutmeg and cloves.

Even apart from the alternatives listed above, there are several resources online that can teach us to completely replace plastics and make our lives safer. If you know of any, or have other such useful tips, please leave us a comment!

This article was first published at The Alternative.

Pic credit: Shutterstock

Currently pursuing an engineering degree from BITS Pilani, Goa, Sanjana R is a Chennai-born girl settled in Mumbai, and writes for The Alternative in a humble attempt to fulfill the stereotype of being a frustrated engineer.

The Alternative is an online publication on social change and sustainable living.

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