Recently the media reported on some restaurants from suburban Mumbai that had decided to give up using plastic bags for food parcel deliveries. Given the widespread and growing concern regarding our wanton use of plastic, the decision is laudable. But why is plastic bad?
Plastic is a synthetic material that is both, easy and inexpensive, to produce. Its light weight, durability and versatility make it a preferred material for packing and manufacturing. However, its uncontrolled use leads to more problems than it solves.
The most commonly known and accepted argument against plastic is that it is non-biodegradable, because of which it pollutes the natural environment and poses a risk to living organisms. But, while this is true, plastics are also known to have a harmful effect on individual health.
Risks associated with plastics
These are some of the hazards associated with using plastic:
Polyethylene, contained in plastic articles including shopping bags, disposable bottles and glasses, chewing gum and toys, is believed to be carcinogenic (cancer causing).
Some plastic water bottles contain Bisphenol A, a compound that is believed to cause cancer, impair the immune system lead to early puberty and trigger development of obesity and diabetes.
Polystyrene, the form of plastic used to make styrofoam articles such as disposable cups and plates, it is believed, enters the body with food and accumulates in fat tissues. It can also cause irritation in the eyes, nose and throat.
Tetrafluoro-ethelyne, the plastic compound used to manufacture non-stick cooking ware, can irritate the eyes and nose and cause respiratory problems
Acrylic, used in clothes, contact lenses, dentures, adhesives, articles used to prepare food, diapers, sanitary napkins, and other products, can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, respiratory difficulties and headaches.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a form of plastic used in packaging, containers, utility items and cosmetics has been linked to onset of cancer and birth and genetic conditions. It can also cause bronchitis, skin disease, deafness and vision problems, and digestion and liver related problems.
Phthalates, present in emulsions, inks, footwear and toys among other products, is associated with hormonal disturbances, developmental issues, cancer, reduced sperm count and infertility and weakened immunity.
Plastics, in spite of their many hazards, also have their uses. It would be impossible - and impractical - to give up their use altogether. It is, however, possible to be more discriminating regarding their use. Avoid using plastic substitutes in favor of natural alternatives wherever this is possible. Finding out more about the specific risks of different plastic products can also help you to avoid these risks.
These are some basic things you should remember:
As far as possible, avoid buying and storing food in plastic containers; instead use safer alternatives such as glass, metal or porcelain.
Avoid plastic bottles with Bisphenol A; when in doubt, check with the manufacturer.
Also avoid using things made from PVC or styrene.
Prefer natural fabrics over synthetic ones for clothes and furniture upholstery.
Avoid giving plastic toys to children, especially in the case of younger children who are likely to chew or take toys in the mouth.