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Plastic is Not Just Toxic for the Environment

MCS Sustainability Committee
A just-released study has found vast amounts of microplastics (particles less than 5mm long) – and potentially more dangerous nanoplastics (less than 1 micrometer long) -- in three different brands of bottled water. Nanoplastics are of special concern as they are so small they can pass between our bodies’ blood-brain barrier, and through placenta walls to developing fetuses. 

These were the findings of a new study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who used breakthrough techniques to precisely identify and count the plastic particles in bottled water. In their January 9, 2024 report, researchers stated that, “on average, a liter contained some 240,000 detectable plastic fragments 10 to 100x greater than previous estimates.”

But it’s not just plastic water bottles that are contaminating their contents. On January 4, 2024, the non-profit publication Consumer Reports released its findings that 84 out of the 85 supermarket foods (including organics) tested, as well as the fast foods, contained "plasticizers" known as phthalates, a chemical used to make plastic more flexible and durable, which is leaching from plastic packaging to the food inside.   

While the case for using less plastic is often made on environmental grounds, these results show compelling health reasons to avoid using plastics. The full health impacts of these tiny plastic particles when they pass to humans - and other animal species that humans eat - are still being researched, but there is already ample evidence of multiple harmful effects.

Scientists have shown that chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and per and poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in plastic food and beverage containers are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that can interfere with reproduction, growth, and cognitive function. EDCs have been linked to a range of adverse human health outcomes including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. We are all exposed to a variety of EDCs through routine use of everyday products, and few of the chemical additives to plastic have been adequately tested for safety. Families need to know whether products are safe before they are widely available in the marketplace. Why is it only now that we are learning of the potential harm from plastics after they have been used for decades and become so widespread in food and drink packaging?

What can you do to protect your health?
  • Consider changing your shopping and food storage habits to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. 
  • In your kitchen, save glass jars and reuse them for food storage as alternatives to plastic wrap or lidded plastic containers. 
  • Glass, and stainless steel containers aluminum foil, waxpaper, or beeswax wrap (recipe here!) are healthier alternatives to keep leftovers fresh. 
  • As a general rule, try to buy food in as whole a state as possible, and with as little processing and packaging. 
  • Refuse plastic containers and cutlery at restaurants whenever you can, and always carry reusable water bottles.
There have never been more reasons to ditch the plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels, and used in everything from clothing to single-use containers. Avoiding plastic will lessen the spread of chemical compounds and micro- and nanoplastics throughout our ecosystem. 

Knowing that our own bodies are also being flooded with plastics from plastic food packaging makes it even more urgent to avoid this material -- and to urge lawmakers to better regulate the production and use of plastics.

For further reading:

To take Action:

The Sustainability committee will be hosting Zero Waste Workshops in 2024!  Keep an eye out for after school or evening workshops on various zero/low waste topics!

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Anyone in the MCS community can join the Sustainability Committee!
If you are a parent, guardian, faculty or staff member and are interested in joining, email us at:
mcssustainabilitycommittee@gmail.com
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