I’ve always been a Whole Foods person–and have fond memories of each Whole Food that marked a stage of my life. (I still miss you, Houston St one!) But recently we’ve been flirting with Trader Joe’s, since it’s supposed to be amazing and also right there.
What I’ve noticed with Trader Joe’s was that all their veggies come mysteriously wrapped in plastic. There was a pack of perfectly globular, red, organic vine ripened tomatoes–in plastic. But I was particularly freaked out by this bag of broccoli florets, which says, “Microwave in This Bag.” What the heck?!
Even before BPA-lined cans were news, and people started carrying stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic, I always had a great fear of mixing microwave and plastic. Growing up in suburbs of Portland, I’ve known some older people who blithely microwaved leftovers with the cling wrap on, before serving it to me. And yes, that looks as bad as it sounds–I advise you not to try it. This person thought it was fine, probably not unrelated to the messages of large companies (like Trader Joe’s) that imply mixing plastic and food is totally okay.
So is plastic safe in the microwave? According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), one of the most respected authorities on health research, no plastic containers of any kind should be used in the microwave, because its chemicals “may leach into food when it’s heated.” But the FDA maintains that “microwave-safe” plastic can be used in the microwave without “short-term or long-term health consequences.” In a case where your health is on the line, I think it’s worth taking no chances and just assuming the worst, even if mysterious veggie packages claim otherwise. Also, how much more work is it if you bought a head of broccoli without a plastic wrapping, washed and trimmed it yourself, and steamed it over the stove? Not at all much work. Sometimes in life, it’s really not more convenient to do the things that are supposed to be convenient, and this is one of them.
Having said that, I don’t think I can eliminate plastic completely in my life–or even go without it for a single day. It’s far easier to be vegan than to be plastic-free! But plastic is increasingly found to be dangerous to your health, in its various guises. The most widely cited is BPA, which lines 75% of canned foods in America, and mimics estrogen in the body, with links to breast cancer, changes to the reproductive system, etc. Phthalates is a plasticizer that is present in your makeup and nail polish, but also plastic bags, faux leather, inflatable toys, or other items that typically replace rubber. Phthalates are also reproductive toxicants, causing delayed sexual development and genital defects in baby boys. Amazingly (as in shocking, not awesome), about 1/4 of American women have phthalates exposure at levels higher than that which would cause these effects.
Here’s how to reduce plastic in your life, feel freer, healthier, and help the Earth, too.
1. Bring your reusable canvas shopping tote.
I use one of my several canvas/cotton shopping totes for groceries. Unlike a plastic reusable bag (still better than disposable plastic bag), I can just pop them in the washing machine when they get dirty.
2. Don’t wrap your produce in plastic bags.
Ditch those thin plastic bags that you’re supposed to put all your produce in: put them in the shopping basket, just like that! Yes, I know the kale is damp. But you were going to wash these carefully at home, anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Put them directly inside your canvas shopping tote. It might feel “weird” at first, but this is exactly how people used to do groceries before plastic became the norm. (And how they do it in France! But of course.)
3. Replace plastic containers with glass.
Plastic containers often contain BPA–but the BPA-free containers have problems of their own, reporting even more estrogenic activity (EA) than BPA-containing ones. Try switching over to glass jars. I love saving old Bonne Maman jars for just this purpose. And I actually haven’t bought cling wrap in years! Foil or reusable containers can do everything that a cling wrap can.
4. Place a piece of paper towel over your leftovers when you microwave.
No one likes cleaning a dirty microwave, but don’t use a cling wrap!! Just place a piece of paper towel over your plate to reduce splashing, without any plastic mingling with your food. I don’t typically buy frozen dishes, but if you have a frozen burrito or Amy’s vegan pot pie or something, ditch the “microwave safe” plastic and use a regular plate.
5. Change to phthalates-free personal care products.
I’ve become an expert at checking for phthalates in my body wash, shampoo, makeup, etc. Familiarize yourself with natural and conscious brands to make it easier for you.
6. To protect yourself further, take off your lip gloss before eating.
Even if your lip gloss is technically phthalates-free, it still probably contains something that replaces it. If I’m definitely wearing lipstick or gloss, I like to wipe it off before eating (discretely of course).
7. Reduce the number of pre-packaged foods you buy.
I don’t like buying pre-packaged produce, but I have my weaknesses too…namely vegan protein bars in handy individual plastic wrapping! While I don’t think I can ever completely let go of the convenience of these, I’m going to try to be more mindful and buy them when I really, really crave them. 🙂 It’s also better for the environment, too!
Do you have any stories / adventures in living plastic-free?
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Also see: Are Petroleum Products Safe?
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling; Mary Anne Enriquez via Flickr