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plasticEarlier this week it is estimated that over a billion people from across the world celebrated Earth Day! This year Earth Day’s theme was “Protect Our Species”. We were encouraged to do our part to protect endangered animals. One of the ways we can do this is by reducing our use of plastic.

When it comes to plastic, small changes can have a big impact on these animals, as well as the environment. In addition, reducing our use of plastic can have a great impact on OUR health!

The Impact of Plastic on the Environment

Our culture’s reliance on plastic is having a major impact on the environment. Many people do not think about the fact that plastic is made from crude oil. The manufacturing process emits a substantial amount of pollution and, once created, plastic is not biodegradable. According to the Natural Environment website, it takes about 400 years for a plastic bag to break down.

So how much plastic do we actually use? Across the globe it is estimated that we use over one trillion single use plastic bags each year. That means nearly 2 million plastic bags are used every minute! These plastic bags are believed to  be responsible for the death of 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals each year.

But sea animals are not the only ones suffering from the effects of plastic!

How Plastic Harms Our Health

Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, are two man-made chemicals often found in plastic. These chemicals are considered to be endocrine disruptors. They can affect hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. These chemicals are thought to be linked to chronic health conditions like heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

BPA and phthalates can leach into our foods when we store them in plastic containers. This is especially a concern when heating foods in plastic containers and when storing acidic foods. We are also exposed to these chemicals when we drink from most plastic water bottles.

The Risk for Pregnant Women (and their Growing Babies!)

While these chemicals are not good for anyone, it is especially important for pregnant women to avoid these chemicals when at all possible! BPA exposure has been linked to birth defects as well as developmental disabilities.

Exposure to these chemicals may also cause early puberty in children and increase their risk of either breast or prostate cancer as adults. There is also a link between exposure to these chemicals and hyperactivity in girls. In utero exposure may also affect a girls fertility as she matures.

There are a number of interesting studies looking at the effects of prenatal exposure to these chemicals!

Research Study on Exposure and Child Development

A team of researchers conducted a fascinating study looking at the correlation between a mother’s exposure to phthalates during pregnancy with the baby’s development and IQ.

To do this researchers collected a urine sample from the women late in pregnancy. The urinary metabolites of many chemicals (di-n-butyl phthalate, butylbenzyl phthalate, di-isobutyl phthalate, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate) were then measured. Urine samples were also obtained from the children (at both 3 and 5 years of age) and analyzed for metabolites of the same phthalates.

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children was administered to the children (at 7 years old). The instrument measured verbal concept formation, perceptual reasoning, working memory, processing speed, etc.

Significant associations between exposure to these chemicals and the child’s IQ was found. Children born to women with the highest levels of concentration of these chemicals scored lower on 7 year IQ than children born to women with lowest concentration. Similar associations were also found with the children’s perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed.

Tips For Reducing Plastic

  • Glass containers: Check out 10 Reasons Glass is Better Than Plastic for more information about changing to glass. (There are many great choices of glass containers on the market.)
  • Reusable snack and sandwich bags: There are many brands and designs to choose from. (This is just one example.)
  • Reusable grocery bags: This article breaks down the environmental impact of plastic vs. reusable grocery bags.
  • Wooden or metal straws: The use of wooden or metal straws can help reduce the plastic that ends up in our waterways and landfills.
  • Reusable stainless steel or glass water bottles: Avoid the disposable plastic water bottles.

As always, I don’t expect you to make all these changes overnight, but perhaps there are a couple changes that you are ready to make. Just make the next step that you can. Your body and the earth will thank you!


Dr. Jamie