Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Happy Lack of Plastics

Plastic is not biodegradable, and it is a synthetic material, something our bodies can’t handle. That’s enough to make me take a few steps to decrease the number of plastic products I use. I don’t want to ingest any plastic, and I don’t want to create garbage if I don’t have to.

First of all, while I sometimes store food in plastic containers, I NEVER heat food in plastic. I don’t care if it says “microwave safe.” There are plenty of sources out there showing that the denotation “microwave safe” only means that the container won’t melt if you heat it. It does not refer to the safety of your food once it has been heated in the microwave in a plastic container. If you ask me, the fact that a plastic container won’t melt when heated to high temperatures is more dodgy than if it actually did melt. There’s enough research out there to convince me that heating food in plastic is not a good idea- plastic molecules can slough off of plastics and into food when the container or wrapping is heated and cooled repeatedly.

I mostly store food in glass jars and in Pyrex Tupperware-style containers. Unfortunately the latter are fairly expensive, but they are in fact microwave safe in the true sense. As for the jars, I use some canning jars, and the rest are jars that other food products are sold in. I try not to buy food that is packaged in plastic, and if I have to buy peanut butter or something canned, I try to always find it in glass packaging so the jars can be reused. I do freeze a lot of foods in plastic, since any glass besides Pyrex doesn’t usually stand up to freezing, even with room left for the expansion of broth, etc. I have less qualms about freezing in plastic, since I only let things thaw in the plastic and remove before heating.

I cook exclusively in cast iron, ceramic, Pyrex, and stainless steel. Hopefully we all know that “non-stick” pans are a big no-no. For me, all it takes is one good look at a pan that has been sliced up by knives and spatulas and is missing some of its metal lining, lost into food at some point or the other. Cast iron is the original non-stick material, and I swear by it. I’ve stopped using aluminum pans as well. There is some research out there that suggests aluminum is linked to Alzheimers, but from what I can tell, the amount of aluminum you would have to ingest for it to cause dementia is HUGE. Still, I don’t like the idea of molecules of a foreign metal entering my body by any means. (On a side note, aluminum is the active ingredient in most antiperspirants—a substance that is put straight into pores. I began using an aluminum-free deodorant several years ago, made by Adidas, of all people. It is effective and safe, as far as I can tell. I admire Tom’s of Maine as a company, but their aluminum-free deodorants make me smell like a giant hippie).

A few years ago I also got rid of my plastic water bottles, and bought two metal water bottles. One is a Klean Kanteen, made from stainless steel. The other is a Sigg, from the Swiss company. It is made from aluminum, but with a liner that is supposedly proven to not leach anything harmful into the liquid in the bottle. I guess in some ways everything is a gamble, but I feel better with metal than with plastic.

I do still use plastic bags for storing some dry foods and for things like veggies in the fridge. My major complaint about plastic bags is that people often throw them away after one use, forgetting that things like bread bags are recyclable, and that sandwich bags are reusable. I wash and re-use all plastic bags, unless they are hopelessly destroyed (i.e. something rotted in it) in which case I do throw them away, or unless they get torn, in which case they get recycled. I rarely get plastic grocery bags at the store- that only happens if I forget my canvas totes and have too much to carry without a bag. I’m usually on my bike and put all my groceries in my pack. I always try to take my own produce bags from home, so I’m not creating extra waste by taking new ones from the store. Each time I wash bags at home, I put a bunch of the clean produce bags in my pack or totes so I don’t have to think about it when I go to the store.

In some cases it’s hard to know what to believe. I feel like I run on instinct mostly, feeling better about using more stable substances like glass and cast iron for cooking purposes. The only thing research is saying for sure is that plastic wrapping can leach into food at harmful if heated or cooled, while also acknowledging that harder plastics can leach into food, but at such small amounts that a “harmful” accumulation is almost impossible. Still, I choose to believe that any accumulation of a foreign substance in my food or drink is unacceptable, as is putting unnecessary plastic in the garbage, which will end up in a dump and never break down.

Links to research and news regarding plastics:

The FDA’s Statement on Bisphenols (BPAs), 2008:

2005 Research Suggesting Cancer Link to Plastic:

Alzheimers Society article on aluminum as a contributing factor:

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