Let’s be real, we all know plastics suck for our health and are also terrible for the environment. But getting rid of them completely is damn near impossible and really shouldn’t be the goal.
So, is there a smart way to reduce our exposure to the most harmful plastics in our lives? And, are there common sense things we can do TODAY to protect our bodies from all this toxicity?
The answer is yes, but keep reading because some of my suggestions might surprise you.
A Quick Reminder of Why Plastics Suck
BPA and phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Once we ingest them, they circulate in our bodies and pretend to be hormones (1). In addition to that, they’re persistent as heck, so they love to stick around in our fat tissue. BPA seems to mimic estrogen the most, which is why it’s referred to as a “xenoestrogen.” Estrogen is involved in the formation of fat tissue, so it’s no coincidence that BPA also acts as an obesogen (promotes fat cell growth) that’s frequently observed in obese children and adults (2)(3).
Chronic diseases rooted in metabolic dysfunction like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and thyroid disorders have been linked to BPA. That doesn’t mean BPA is the primary cause, but its presence in most chronic diseases makes it a little suspect. Plus, its effects on sexual function, fertility, fetal and early childhood development are well-established in the research (4)(5).
BPA also has the potential to imprint the DNA of sperm and eggs, affecting the health of future generations (5)(6). It’s important to note that even when you see a plastic labeled BPA-free, there can still be other dangerous replacement chemicals, like BPS.
I’m not trying to be all “doom and gloom” here. It’s just the harsh reality that plastics (containing BPA and other harmful chemicals), are a part of our lives and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I totally understand feeling a little defeated reading this. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What’s the point of wasting my energy on something I have no control over?” The fact is, you have more control than you might think. Instead of feeling helpless, I want you to feel empowered. You don’t have to purge all the plastics in your life to lower your exposure.
Today, I want to focus on reducing your exposure to BPA and other harmful chemicals from plastics in your kitchen, inspired by this fantastic Instagram account @environmentaltoxinsnerd that has tons of resources to raise awareness around toxins in your life and how to avoid them.
Some more obvious ones are: 1) avoid heating plastic in the microwave or storing hot food in plastic containers to prevent plastic from leaching into your food; 2) swap out plastic water bottles, Tupperware, dishes, and utensils for glass, stainless steel, or ceramic; and 3) cut back on processed and take-out foods that come in plastic packages or containers.
But what about the sources of plastic in your life that are more difficult to avoid or replace?
In this week’s newsletter, I’m going to walk you through some practical tips I’ve used for reducing plastics in my kitchen in some less obvious places.
I. Kitchen appliances. If you’re into smoothies, I’m sure you have some type of blender lying around. Blenders these days are pretty impressive. For example, Vitamix and Blendtec’s motors crank up to 1800-watts and have settings for just about anything you want to blend. Unfortunately, despite this revolution in blenders, most are still made from plastic.
If you own a fancy blender or any type of food processor, mixer, or appliance made from plastic, I don’t want you to feel like you have to replace it. There are ways to clean these and use them differently to cut down on potential plastic exposure.
1. Hand wash over dishwashers. Any plastic appliances or containers you have in your kitchen are better off being hand washed in lukewarm water with mild, plant-based dish soap. I like this one from Dr. Bronner, which received an “A” from the EWG for having few or no ingredients suspected to be hazardous to humans or the environment. Hot temperatures from the dishwasher combined with caustic detergents increase plastic leaching.
The name of the game with plastic you can’t avoid is minimizing exposure to super high heat. Or, in some cases, where you can’t avoid high heat, focus on shortening the exposure time.
2. Minimize time hot food or beverages are in plastic blenders. I love my blender and almost always use it to blend my morning coffee with all the good stuff that I add. Would exposure to toxins be lower if I didn’t use my plastic Vitamix to blend? Probably! But it’s tough to avoid it completely. That said, here are two things I do to try!
First, if I have to use my Vitamix to blend something hot, I’ll quickly blend and then immediately pour the hot liquid into a non-plastic container, so I’m reducing total exposure time. Even a 2-second blend for a hot liquid is usually good enough. Secondly, I’ve mostly switched to using a stainless steel immersion blender or coffee frother like this one. You can get them on Amazon for pretty cheap.
II. Everyday beverages. If you’re someone who drinks coffee most mornings like I do (when I’m not on a coffee cleanse), your coffee might be exposing you to more plastic than you think. A while back, I had some thyroid issues, so I did a deep dive into possible chemical exposures that could be affecting me. BPA, phthalates, and other plastic-derived toxins are known to impact thyroid function.
1. Stainless steel french press. I love my coffee pot. It’s glass and makes up to 12 cups which is awesome for having company over, but the plastic tubing that the hot water travels through to reach the coffee grinds raises some red flags. I switched from using my standard coffee pot to using a stainless steel French press. Here’s the one I use from Müeller. It only holds 32 ounces which is plenty. Between my wife and me, that’s about two eight-ounce cups each.
Pro-tip: I have to admit, I was having trouble at first getting my coffee to the strength I like it using my French press, but my Try This co-writer, Taylor (IG: @foodhappywithtaylor), gave me a tip to leave the coffee grinds sitting in hot water for about 10-15 minutes longer, which helped a lot.
2. Watch out for the lids on to-go coffee cups. Everybody loves going to their local coffee shop for a coffee or tea or even grabbing one on the fly at Starbucks. Despite efforts to reduce plastic waste from small coffee shop businesses and larger-scale corporations, plastic lids are still frequently used. Putting a plastic lid over a pippin’ hot cup of coffee or tea is definitely going to cause some leaching, especially because the lids are made out of such poor quality plastic. The truth is, once in a while won’t kill you, but day after day exposure definitely adds up.
Ask your barista to put your coffee in your ceramic or stainless steel coffee mug. This will cut down on plastic waste and lower your plastic exposure, too—a win-win! Or if you forget your cup, just don’t put a lid on the coffee and be super careful.
I just want to make one important distinction here: the whole “plastic containers causing leaching” rule generally only applies to hot food and beverages. You don’t have to worry about iced or cold food and beverages being a major source of plastic contamination.
III. Kitchen sponges. The sponges we use for washing dishes are typically made from plastic. Not only are they a hotspot for bacteria, but scouring pads on synthetic sponges or tough-scrubbing sponges like Scrub Daddy’s are also made from plastic, which isn’t great for the environment or for us. These sponges shed microplastics down the drain each time you wash your dishes. Their abrasive texture can scratch plastic appliances, causing microplastics to stick around and leach into your food or drink when the container is used again.
1. Use the soft side of your sponge or a dishcloth for washing. If you’re not ready to give up your synthetic sponges or want to finish up using the ones you have, try using the soft side of the sponge instead of the abrasive side, especially when you’re washing plastic containers.
2. Plant-based sponge. These contain no plastics and still get the job done for getting rid of tough grease or hard food on dishes. Here’s an all-natural plant-based sponge that I love.
By the way, did you know that loofahs can be used as sponges? And I’m not talking about the drug store loofahs made from plastic. Natural loofahs made from the plant Luffa aegyptiaca are beige in color and completely biodegradable, so you can throw it in your compost bin and it will biodegrade in about a month or so. My sister uses this one to wash her dishes and says it works great.
IV. Kitchen utensils. Plastic spatulas, spoons, and ladles can leach into whatever food you’re cooking on the stovetop or using to serve a hot casserole dish. Over time, replacing these with silicone, bamboo, or stainless steel is a great option. If it’s too expensive to switch everything over at once, second-hand thrift stores sell gently used ones you can purchase for next to nothing.
The goal is not to have no plastic exposure, the goal is to have less plastic exposure. I don’t want you to feel totally overwhelmed by the plastics in your life. Chances are, when you purchased whatever kitchen appliance, utensil, or accessory it was out of excitement for preparing something awesome. Our intentions are always there at the time and we do the best we can with the level of awareness we have—I’m a firm believer in that. I’m also a huge fan of education. Once you learn something, you can’t unlearn it, but that doesn’t mean we have to change everything overnight.
Feeling overwhelmed by the plastics in your life is completely normal, but it doesn’t have to be the norm. My best advice is to start slow and make gradual changes here and there. Maybe it’s washing your plastic appliances/containers differently, heating on the stovetop instead of the microwave, or replacing your plastic storage containers with glass—it doesn’t matter. Every change, no matter how big or small, is a step in the right direction.
In time you’ll be coming in contact with less and less plastic which will have serious pay-offs, like less endocrine-disrupting chemicals in your and your family’s lives. I hope you found my protocol helpful. Tune in next week for the impacts of air pollution on your brain health and what you can do to significantly and cheaply improve your air quality
In health and gratitude,