Friday, April 22, 2011

today is Earth Day!

In honor of Earth Day, I'll be doing a few Think Green posts, ranging from recycling-reusing-upcycling-reducing to green cleaning and green baby products.

I try to stick to being more than green here at our home. We eat lots of as local and organic food as we can get, and I yell at Charlie every time he spins out his tires :P The cool thing about starting to become more environmentally friendly is that there are tons of easy ways to incorporate green living into your everyday routine. Taking baby steps into green living is key to's easy to get overwhelmed with all the options regarding products, food, construction, home appliances/decor, clothing and more. I'll see if I can't break down at least a few of these options over the next few posts. We certainly could be doing more to be greener around here, but I'll highlight some options that really work for us and are easy to manage if you're thinking about being more environmentally conscious.

Way back in the day, when I was maybe a sophomore at SMSU (glory days!), I had a habit of making tea in my Nalgene water bottles. I'd sip on hot tea all through my classes, stopping at either Java City or the little convenience site in the middle of campus to add hot water to whatever tea I was drinking. One day my friend Kayleigh caught me as I was heading off with a full bottle of tea goodness, and she called me out on it, saying that the hot water would leach toxins from the #7 plastic into my tea. I was incredulous and interested, and went straight to the library to do some research.

She wasn't far off the mark, and from then on I went with a glass-lined travel mug or stainless steel. Actually, there are many, many ways that plastics give our bodies a hard time these days, depending on the plastic number and how you choose to use them. In light of what I have found in reading about plastics I've done a good job at getting rid of them in our house. Some things you really can't avoid, but the daily use plastics (tupperwares, Glad containers, most of Lydia's plastic toys, plastic bags) have gone away.

Across the board, plastics are energy-intensive to manufacture. Making them uses non-renewable resources such as petroleum, and CO2 (carbon dioxide) is emitted during processing. Interestingly enough, they are also difficult to recycle, even though plastics make up a major portion of total items recycled in the United States. Usually they're down-cycled into a less useful type. And if they're not recycled at all, they're sent to the landfills, oceans or incinerators where they can leach chemicals as well.

If you look closely at either the plastic product itself, or its packaging, it will have a number that tells you the type of plastic it is. Each type of plastic is made of mostly the same ingredients, namely petroleum and surfactants, but the ways in which plastics are processed differ depending on their designated use. The surfactants and chemicals used to produce plastics are toxic to human and animal health, but they vary in degree of severity according to the different numbers. I found a really useful break-down of the types of plastics and their associated concerns in a Natural Home magazine not too long ago:

#1: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) Also known as polyester. Typical uses include water/pop bottles, salad containers. They're intended for one-time use. The plastic can break down and host bacteria, and they have the potential to interfere with reproductive hormones.

#2: HDPE (high-density polyethylene) Think milk and laundry soap jugs, shampoo bottles, and cereal box liners. These have a low risk of leaching.

#3: (
danger danger danger!) PVC (polyvinyl chloride) These guys are bad news, and unfortunately the most used. Plastic wrap, cooking oil bottles, toys, plumbing, insulation, window/door frames. Known as the toxic plastic; can cause endocrine disruption, reduced sperm count, testicular atrophy and liver cancer.

#4: LDPE: (low-density polyethylene) Not known to leach chemicals. Think plastic wrap (you'll have to look on the box to see which type, 3 or 4, it is), plastic bags, sandwich baggies.

#5: PP: (Polypropylene) Yogurt/butter tubs, microwavable meal trays, carpet fiber, vehicle upholstery. Hazardous during manufacture but not known to release chemicals.

#6: PS (polystyrene) Typical uses include styrofoam cups, clamshell containers, foam meat trays, plastic cutlery. Eye, nose and throat irritants, stored in body fat, can cause cancer in production workers, harmful to marine life.

#7: PC (polycarbonate), PLA (polylactide) or other plastics not mentioned above. Baby bottles, some reusable water bottles (yes, Nalgenes!) and stain-resistant food containers (Glad/Tupperware). The problem with #7's is mostly due to BPA, which has been greatly limited in plastic products these days. BPA causes (
not CAN cause, but CAUSES, wow!) endocrine and reproductive system disruption, impaired neurological functioning, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, obesity, early puberty and chemotherapy resistance.

I'd hate to know how much BPA I have stored in my system. I drank a LOT of tea in college and only recently Nalgene pulled all of its wide-mouth containers and started replacing their Nalgene water bottles with BPA-free plastics. But I feel better when I can remove plastics around here, even though they are doggedly pervasive and hard to get out of the house completely. In closing, here's a few easy ways to avoid using plastic:

1. Buy and store food in glass containers.

2. Try not to buy items in plastic packaging, and always use your reusable market bags.

3. Avoid PC drinking bottles with BPA. BPA-free is always mentioned on the packaging label.

4. Most canned food liners contain BPA. Support companies that go BPA free in their canned goods.

5. Don't give plastic teethers or toys to infants or young children (easier said than done, I know).

6. Avoid storing fatty foods such as meat and cheese in plastic.

7. Never heat food in plastic containers. The "safe to microwave" just means it won't fall apart, not that it's safe for human health.

8. If you do use plastic containers, don't put them in the dishwasher. Handwash them gently with nonabrasive soap.


  1. Thanks for the great info Kate! I try to live as green as possible but am not always successful. My husband makes fun of me quite a bit. He's financially minded and likes to call me his, "hippy wife." I don't take offense : )