Dr. Helen Webberley comments on the claim that plastic packaging is potentially dangerous for our health
As the clean-eating revolution gains pace, health gurus are focusing on more than just what we put in our bodies. Now, many experts are also rethinking the packaging our (hopefully) healthy meals are contained in. And plastic bottles, containers and wraps are top of their toxic hit list.
In addition to reports that plastics can increase our risk of everything from cancer to obesity, a recent American study showed a link between BPA (a chemical compound found in certain plastic containers) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children. So, should we all be purging the plastics from our lives? new! takes a closer look at the facts.
It’s a man-made wonder product that’s been around since 1856 and is used in everything from packaging and prosthetic limbs to aeroplanes. So far, so impressive. But this miracle material has a darker side. Apart from the fact that some plastics might take up to 1,000 years to decompose, many insist it could be taking its toll on our health on a more immediate basis. paper cartons – believes the more we investigate plastics, the more sinister the findings become. “Many of the chemicals that can leach into our drinking water from plastic bottles are ‘endocrine disruptors’, meaning they interfere with our hormones,” he says. “These days, it seems our fertility is declining and many people rely on assisted fertility. Plastics are pervasive in our society but they’re cheap and convenient, and because big businesses make so much money from them, it’s not in their interest to tell people the dangers.” Meanwhile, international campaign group The Plastic Oceans Foundation recently made a worrying submission to the House Of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee, claiming that tiny pieces of chemical-laden plastic were getting into the flesh of seafood and, in turn, into the human food chain. The submission read, “These toxic substances... can accumulate into the human food chain through consumption of fish and cause health effects in the human population.”
“We’ve always worried about the content of plastics and whether they’re dangerous to us,” says Dr Helen Webberley, a GP and spokesperson for Medichecks.com. “But if you look at the medical evidence, which is what doctors go on, there’s no scary evidence showing there’s any danger. If the stats and clinical evidence don’t prove it, we don’t worry about it.” The British Plastics Federation insists that BPA, for example, has been approved as safe for use in all food and drink containers by the European Food Safety Authority and the UK Food Standards Agency. It also says that dietary exposure to BPA is well below the recognised tolerable daily intake (TDI). “Personally, I don’t worry about plastics. I have an overall trust in our Government to be looking at food and hygiene and safety as a global issue,” says Dr Helen. “The clean-living, clean-eating movement might have brought this back into focus, but I suspect things will have got better as scientists will have improved ways of testing for things like phthalates and so on. If there was anything that was dangerous for us, then the Food Standards Agency would have banned them. Plastics have been around for so long – if they were going to cause an issue we would know by now.”
Alarmingly, a recent survey has shown that nearly a third of people in the UK use bottled water at home, while according to market research by Mintel, bottled water sales increased by a staggering 25 per cent in volume from 2010 to 2015. “It takes 162g of oil and seven litres of water to manufacture a single one-litre disposable PET (a common type of plastic) bottle, which amounts to the release of 100g of carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas,” says Dr Sue Kinsey from the Marine Conservation Society. “This means single-use plastic bottles significantly contribute to pollution, even if they are subsequently recycled.”
While the Government implemented the compulsory 5p charge for plastic bags last October, it seems its efforts to reduce our plastic consumption. Many of the claims relate to BPA (bisphenol A), a common chemical found in many plastic food containers, and phthalates, the chemicals used to make plastics flexible. They’ve been linked to cancer, fertility problems, ADHD, asthma, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and behavioural problems. One of the most recent studies showed that exposure to BPA can even weaken children’s teeth – irreversibly.
Many believe there are dangers and consequences associated with our use of plastics. One study found that children exposed to high levels of BPA in the womb were fatter by the age of seven. “The evidence that prenatal bisphenol A exposure is associated with measures of obesity in children may be an important underlying factor in the obesity epidemic,” said Andrew Rundle, one of the researchers at Columbia University in New York. Neil Tomlinson, who founded Aquapax – mineral water sold in plastic waste takes years to decompose don’t stretch much further. Luckily, many progressive thinkers are finding alternatives to plastics, producing fully compostable products made from renewable or recycled materials. “People love our packaging because it’s made from plants, not plastic,” says Joe Frankel, managing director and founder of eco-friendly packaging company Vegware. “Most people use our packaging for food to go, but we also have customers using it for beauty products, gardening and pet food.”