Avoid Plastic In Your Kitchen (Because It’s Harming Your Health)

I think of myself as an eco-friendly and environmentally conscious person, but I recently threw away an entire garbage bag full of plastic kitchen items.  Why is it important to avoid plastic in your kitchen and why would I be doing something that is completely against my going green goals?  

Occasionally, some of my goals – and probably yours too – conflict with each other, and I have to prioritize.  I have goals to go green and to live clean, which means that I want to reduce our household waste and to reduce the toxins in our home.  However, those two goals conflict sometimes – especially when it comes to plastic. 

Plastic is probably one of the most controversial materials in our world right now.  There are so many environmentalists, activists, and bloggers writing about how harmful plastic is to our planet and oceans. I am one of those bloggers and definitely want to spread the message and importance of reducing plastic waste.  

However, what do you do when you already have a ton of plastic in your home and you find out that it could cause your family health harm?  

avoid plastic in your kitchen

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If you have young children like me, then you might be in the same predicament.  I have two cabinets full of plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic water bottles, plastic bowls, and plastic utensils for children. When you have babies and toddlers, plastic seems like the way to go since you don’t want your children to break the glass alternatives and potentially hurt themselves (and make a mess). 

However, I recently read a book called Sicker, Fatter, Poorer by Leo Trasande about how chemicals are lurking in our homes (and many other places) and how these chemicals are making us sick.  Some of these toxic chemicals include phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and other bisphenol chemicals. 

Unfortunately, our kitchen is one of the main places that these harmful chemicals are hiding. 

The author, Leo Trasande, recommends several ways to avoid your exposure to these toxic chemicals and most of those recommendations are to avoid plastic in your kitchen since the chemicals in the plastic containers can leach these chemicals into your food or beverages.  

Transande also warns that BPA-free does not mean bisphenol-free and that some of these alternatives to BPA-free are just as toxic and harmful.  Therefore, we should avoid all plastics coming in contact with our food and beverages to limit exposure as much as possible. 

HOW PLASTIC CAN IMPACT YOUR HEALTH

I highly recommend the book Sicker, Fatter, Poorer if you want to learn more because it contains a plethora of information about how chemicals such as phthalates, BPA, other bisphenols and PFOAs (Perfluorooctanoic acid) can harm your health and what to do to avoid these health effects. 

Additionally, you can read about other harmful chemicals lurking in your kitchen in a post called, Is Teflon Safe to Use? And how these man-made chemicals used to make Teflon and other non-stick coatings should be avoided too. 

In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation into PFOAs and other similar chemicals and found evidence of serious health harm, including certain types of cancer, weakened childhood immunity, low birth weight, endocrine disruption, and weight gain in children and dieting adults. These diseases tie into the same harmful effects that Trasande discusses in his book, which include increased risk for obesity, diabetes, endocrine disruption, and more.  

The bottom line is that he strongly recommends that you avoid your exposure to these chemicals as much as possible.  

6 TIPS TO AVOID PLASTIC IN YOUR KITCHEN

Throughout my research about how BPA and BPA-free alternatives, I have found that avoiding plastic in the kitchen is the best way to protect your family’s health. While it’s best to not buy plastic plates, cups or containers to begin with, what do you do if you already have a whole cabinet full of plastic, like me?   

Unfortunately, that plastic needs to go! 

This is why I threw away a bag full of plastic from our kitchen this week. Of course, I recycled as many of the plastic cups and dishes as I could, according to the guidelines for our city.  

Yet unfortunately, many of those plastic dishes did not have recycling symbols and had to be thrown away instead.  While this pained me to do, I know that the health of our family is more important. For this conflict between my two goals to go green and live clean, our health won out. 

Despite the bad news reported here, the good news is that even busy moms, like you and me, can be proactive and can reduce the toxins in their homes. These 6 simple tips to avoid plastic in your kitchen will get you started on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

TIP 1: Know Your Plastics

Trasande recommends that you get to know your plastics and learn what the recycling symbols on the bottom of the containers mean.  The numbers 1 – 6 represent a specific type of plastic, and number 7, which used to be BPA, is now categorized as “other” and may contain BPA replacements that are just as harmful. 

#1 – polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) 

#2 – high-density polyethylene (HDPE)

#3 – polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contain phthalates

#4 – low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

#5 – polypropylene (PP)

#6 – polystyrene (PS)

#7 – “other” 

Based on Trasandes recommendations and my research that turned up an article called, Toxic Plastics to Remove from Your Home as Soon as You Can, I will be avoiding plastics #3, #6 and #7 in our household to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals.  

Wikipedia includes a chart that has a lot of helpful information including the uses for each of these types of plastics and if they can be recycled in most areas.  However, you should check your local municipality for details on your curbside recycling program since those recommendations vary widely. 

TIP 2: Do Not Put Plastic Containers in the Microwave or Dishwasher

The heat from the microwave degrades the plastic and releases the chemicals into the food and liquid. Use glass or ceramic containers in the microwave instead. Likewise, the dishwasher with high heat settings can degrade the plastic and release the chemicals.  Handwash plastic dishes and containers. At a minimum, do not use the heated dryer setting on your dishwasher. 

TIP 3: Stop Using Plastic Dishes That Become Etched

As soon as you notice your plates or containers have become etched or scratched, discontinue using them and recycle them, if possible.  This is one of the main reasons why I decided to throw away and recycle so many of our children’s plastic dishware. Over the years, the metal utensils have scratched the surfaces, which releases the chemicals and even tiny bits of plastic into food. 

scratched plastic plate

TIP 4: Store Food in Glass Containers

Avoid the problems mentioned in Tips 1-3 altogether by using glass containers to store your food and glass dishes to serve your food.  Also, buying food in glass containers is recommended over food in plastic packaging or containers. 

TIP 5: Avoid Food in Tin Cans

Tin cans used to store food in grocery stores and pantries contain a plastic coating that often have BPA or other BPA-free alternatives.  These cans should be avoided entirely. Instead, choose food at the grocery store that comes in glass containers. 

TIP 6: Eat Fresh Food as Much as Possible

Food packaging is a major source of exposure to phthalates and the toxic chemicals found in styrene (in plastic type #6). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEH) both document all the health effects that styrene has on the human body, including the increased risk for some cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. 

Therefore, you can protect your health best by avoiding food packaging by eating as much fresh food as possible. I know that this can sometimes be tricky with children’s current food preferences in the United States, but encouraging healthier eating habits in children can be very beneficial. 

TIP 7: Use Single-Use Items Only ONCE

Single-use plastic items are only intended to be used once and you should not reuse them, even if it seems to be an eco-friendly decision.  The chemicals in these plastics can leach into your water or food more quickly since they are not designed for long term use.

WHAT YOU CAN DO PROTECT YOUR HEALTH

While some of this information may seem grim, there is good news. According to Leo Trasande in Sicker, Fatter, Poorer, some of these negative effects from exposure to these toxic chemicals are reversible, thankfully. 

So do what you can to start implementing the 6 tips to avoid plastic in your kitchen today.  While these changes may seem overwhelming at first, just pick one to get started with. Little by little you can eliminate plastics from your home, reduce your exposure, and protect the health of you and your family! 

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P.S. – Ready to take the next step in eliminating harmful chemicals from your home? Start by reading The 5 Benefits of Clean Living and sign up to receive my Ultimate Guide to Shopping without Chemicals! Plus, I’ll share easy-to-implement, weekly tips for living a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle. I’ve found that many busy moms struggle with just trying to keep up with life’s daily demands and that they don’t have enough time to focus on making healthier choices for their families. I am passionate about helping women find simple ways to make healthy changes. 

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2 Comments

  1. Caitlin
    January 22 / 3:04 PM

    Great tips!! Over the years, I have improved so much in this area in the kitchen, but have also been holding onto plastic stuff (even though I don’t use very often anymore anyways) for times I have littler kids over or send home food with others. But, I’m gonna let this post inspire me to just get rid of it!

    I have these plastic plates called Preserve (I found at TJ Maxx years ago)…they are made from recycled plastic and the company will take them back to be recycled. Wonder if they still exist and what number plastic they are? I will be looking into it for sure.

    In the meantime, I will go through my kitchen stuff and dispose of it all.

    • Rebekah
      January 22 / 4:57 PM

      Thanks Caitlin! It’s definitely a journey for us all and can’t be done all at once. You’re doing great! Thank you also for sharing about the company, Preserve! I need to check them out.

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