Friday, May 13, 2011

Plastic Pestilence

After doing my darndest to reduce my family's use of plastics when it comes to food storage, I must admit, I still have and use plastic food storage containers.  Call it Tupperware, plasticware, Rubbermaid, Glad lock, take-a-longs, whatever you like.  I bet most American households have some sort of plastic food storage products.  And I would even feel fairly confident in stating that most of us probably have more than just a "few" pieces. 

(In fact, I have a suspicion that this stuff magically multiplies at night when nobody's looking-- lids begetting lids, running amok never again to be matched up with their bases!)

But back to the issue at hand.  Why do we use plastic for food storage? 
The answer is simple really:  Convenience.  It's convenient to put last night's leftovers into plastic containers, put them into the fridge, then heat them up the next day or whenever for a tasty meal.  Along with convenience comes cheap.  It's far less expensive to use plastic food containers than say, glass, ceramic, or metal, or so it would seem.  The initial cost up front is less, but if you buy them over and over again, those cheap costs add up.

The flip side:  But plastic is reusable.  Yes!  And part of Tupperware's whole theme is that it is intended to be reused over and over again, not recycled.  Hence, you won't see one of those plastic recycling codes on the bottom.  Reusable plastic does keep garbage out of the landfills, which is definitely a good thing.  However,  that's really only part of the story. 

Depending on the kind of plastic food storage containers you buy, you may be getting some extra unwanted ingredients with your warmed up leftovers!  Even if the plastic is labeled as "microwave safe," you may be getting a good dose phthalates (pronounced Th-ah-lates) or BPA along with your food. 

Phthalates are "plasticizers" and are used in a variety of household applications such as shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, and cleaning materials.  They ware used to make goods more flexible and /or durable.  However, phthalates are also endocrine disruptors, which means that they "interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of natural hormones in the body that are responsible for development, behavior, fertility, and maintenance of homeostasis (normal cell metabolism)."

BPA, or Bisphenol A, is also another known endocrine disruptor found in some plastics.  BPA is known to be estrogenic.  Estrogenic (think estrogen) means that BPA mimics and acts like female sex hormones in our bodies.  There have been studies done that indicate that the increased use of plastics in our food supply may be contributing to early onset of puberty in young girls as well as having a negative impact on boys.  In all fairness, some companies have taken care to make their plastic products BPA-free, but if you have some plastic food storage containers that have been hanging around awhile, you may want to consider getting rid of them.

When you heat up your food, or put your warm food in into a plastic food storage container, the oils and fats in the food bind with some of the plastic particles (phthalates and BPA, etc.), contaminating your food and ultimately your body! 

The moral of the story:  Avoid using plastic containers when reheating your food or for storing hot or warm foods.  Use glass or ceramic instead. 

Which, brings me to the next topic:  What to do with all of this plastic?  Do you give it away knowing that it is potentially harmful? Do you throw it away when you know that it will be in a landfill for eternity?  It's an interesting dilemma for sure.


  1. I am struggling with this topic. I want to eliminate the plastic from my kitchen, but I don't want to be wasteful and throw it away. So far, I have settled on using glass jars for saving leftovers and "repurposing" the plastic containers as storage bins for other areas of the house.

  2. Repurposing is where I am at as well. I am currently using plastic food containers for toys, crayons, buttons, etc. They also work well in the toiletry closet to organize soaps, bath supplies, etc.

    Any other ideas for repurposing plastic food containers?

  3. I use mine to store sewing stuff in. It also makes it handy when travelling and you think there might be need of a sewing kit.

  4. Thanks for the great suggestions.

    There is good news for the Rochester, NY area readers. Starting June 1, Monroe County will accept plastic containers labeled 1 to 7. Which means they will accept Tupperware and plastic take-out containers, along with yogurt cupts, etc.

    Check it out:|mostpopular|text|FRONTPAGE

  5. If you're switching to glass jars for leftovers, you might find that you have a lot of jar lids, which spread all over your cabinets and threaten to take over your kitchen. We use our plastic containers to keep the jar lids in check.

  6. Another reason to reconsider your use of plastics for food storage and re-heating:

    Scientists warn of chemical-autism link