It’s been a few months now since I began to realize the dangers of plastic, particularly when it is used to store food. Since last month’s blog I have come to realize more of the hazards linked to plastic. I just could not believe that I had never realized how critical it was. For years I had been storing organic fresh fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic in my fridge. How stupid I had been! The first thing I did was to go out and buy lots of alternative containers in the kitchenware shop near my school in Kyoto. The lady in the shop was amazed, as I proceeded to put around thirty different food containers on the shop conter. She laughed and asked me what I was going to do with so many. I explained to her the dangers of using plastic with food. She nodded her head as she listened gravely to what I told her.
‘Well I have heard that it is dangerous to burn plastic as it releases various kinds of poisonous toxins, but it is the first time to hear that it could be the cause of depression or lead to brain damage!’ she said, ’So it could be one of the reasons so many people are becoming stressed and suffering from depression!’
She wrapped up all the containers in newspapers and gave me two extra pickle jars for free. ‘I better stop wrapping up things in plastic’ She laughed and I drove home to Ohara and moved into action. It took me 10 hours just to remove all the plastic that I had in my kitchen. I emptied all the plastic bottles and transferred everything in them to glass bottles that I had stored to use one day. Luckily, a few of my students always kindly give their empty bottles and jars for me to store all the things that I make from herbs. I started to remove all the plastic containers in my refrigerator and replaced them with glass, stainless steel or enamelware containers. I was completely amazed at the number of things that were wrapped in styrofoam or plastic. There was just so much to throw away into the garbage bag reserved only for plastic! Even some of the housewives who live in the same neighborhood had been remarking on how much the plastic garbage had increased in the last five years! After I had finished I jumped into a hot Japanese medicinal herb bath to soothe away the bad vibrations of all the plastic and then tumbled into my futon exhausted.
The more and more I became aware of the many dangers of plastic, I began to feel overwhelmed with the vastness of the problem. So many of the artificial things, chemicals, materials etc. that man has developed and created in the last sixty years to make our life easier have sadly, actually turned out to be detrimental to the environment and our health.
The Hazards of Plastic in the food chain
l Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine animals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
l Plastic bags and bottles are not bio-degradable, they photo grade: - breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits, poisoning soil and water ways. They enter the food web, when animals accidentally swallow them.
l Plastic is used in contact with nearly all packaged foods. Most cardboard milk containers are now coated with plastic  rather than wax.
l Plastic is sprayed on both commercial and organic produce. It’s used to preserve the freshness of fruit and vegetables.
l Worldwide, 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year. Many studies show that the quality of bottled water may be no better than tap water.
l The lowdown on plastic containers that are used to store food; Bisphenol, BPA, is usually used to harden the containers. After a short while of use, the plastic will leach chemicals, which causes hormone disruption, cancer, depression, diabetes and mental disorders, especially in children.
l Remember that if you are pregnant or nursing your baby, BPA chemicals are passed through your bloodstream directly to your baby.
l Food and beverage cans are coated with a BPA containing plastic. During the process of canning food, the can is sterilized at 250° for 1 hour. Because heat increases the BPA migration, this is an especially large exposure for people who eat canned foods. As PC plastics grow old, BPA and other chemicals are released.
l Checking Plastic: From www.care2.com by Melissa breyer
1) Flip over your favorite plastic food storage containers and check the recycling code number. Plastic items are marked with a resin identification coding system. The numbers are surrounded by arrows, and stand for:
No.1 P.E.T.E. = polyethylene terephthalate
OK (pet bottles, soft drinks, sports drink, peanut butter jars)
PET or PETE are OK to use once but can leach hormone disrupting phthalates when used over and over again.
No.2 H.D.P.E.= high-density polythene
OK (milk, juice, water bottles, trash bags, cereal box liners, yogurt & margarine tubs)
No.3 P.C.V. = vinyl, polyvinyl and chloride
Bad (juice bottles, cling films, retail bags, wrapped meats & cheeses)
It includes DHA which has the possibility of causing weight loss, reduced bone mass, damage to the liver, testes and cancer. It also releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment and food chain.
No. 4 L.D.P.E = low-density polythene
OK (cardboard, milk containers, bread & frozen food bags)
Not known to leach any chemichals
No. 5 P.P. polypropylene
OK (disposable cups & plates, yogurt containers, ketchup bottles)
No. 6 P.S. polystyrene (also known as Styrofoam, is linked to depression, fatigue central nervous system damage, skin, eye and respiratory irritation.
Bad (egg cartons, take away containers, supermarket food trays to ys)
Very bad The problem with that is, it harbors bisphenol.
(plastic coating for metal cans, beverage bottles, baby bottles, microwave oven ware, eating utensils)
BPA interferes with the reproductive organs and has the ability to mimic the human hormone estrogen.
It has been linked to prostrate and mammary gland cancers, early onset of puberty and reproductive organ defects. It’s also linked to diabetes, cancer, learning disabilities and AHD in children. It also triggers mood disorders and depression in adults. It also includes polycarbonate, acrylic polylactic acid and fiberglass.
Storing food safely
1) Glass containers are the best choice I find for storing food, followed by porcelain, ceramic, enamelware and stainless steel. If it has a plastic lid, be careful not to fill it to the top of the container with the food! The more liquid a food is, the more likely it will touch the plastic, and there is a larger chance that it will pick up plastic molecules which are harmful to health. Learn which plastic to never use with food. This is very difficult for me as I don’t read Japanese. I find it easier to shop in a small organic food store where I can ask the owner whether the plastic used in the container is safe or not.
2) Acid foods such as tomato sauce are said to be especially dangerous to put in plastic containers. They also pick up plastic molecules. I usually make my own home made tomato sauce and ketchup and if I do have to buy some, I always look for a brand in a glass bottle.
3) Although I personally don’t like to use microwave ovens, I have heard that glass, ceramic and porcelain are microwave safe. But don’t forget to remove the lid if it is plastic. Never microwave in plastic. Heating plastics increases the potential for leaching of chemicals into food.
4) I always try to recycle glass jars and bottles. They are great to use, and to store left over food and sauces in the fridge.
5) Recently, some plastic bottle makers in Japan are helpfully beginning to use the international system of numbering the type of plastic that it is made with. If you have to use plastic containers, there are some that are a little safer to use with food or beverages. Check the number written in the triangle at the bottom of the container. No. 1, 2, 4 and 5 are not as dangerous as No. 3, 6 and 7. If you find number 3, 6 or 7 you should avoid using these containers for food storage.
6) If you must use plastic wrap make sure it is a brand free of both BPA and BPC; In Japan Polywrap and Ziploc are promoted as being free of these dangerous chemicals.
7) When you go shopping, try to avoid buying fresh fruit and vegetables that are sold in plastic bags, since you can’t check the plastic type. This I find almost impossible to do, so when I reach home, I transfer my shopping as soon as possible to unbleached wax paper or a safe container.
8) Retire old plastic containers that are heavily worn or scratched. Older plastics tend to leach increasing amounts of toxins as they age. There is also a danger when you eat with plastic plates, cutlery or cook with plastic cooking utensils.