Is plastic food packaging dangerous?
Are the chemicals in plastic food containers and wrappers safe or are they slowly poisoning us?
The chemical content of plastic remains a mystery as manufacturers are not obliged to declare ingredients on labels and most manufacturers do not wish to reveal them.
The only clue to the chemical identity of plastics is the resin code that serves to identify products that can be recycled, consisting of a triangle with a number ranging from 1 to 7 inside.
From 1 to 6, the material is recyclable; 7 indicates non-recyclable materials.
If you read a 3 or a 7 it means respectively that that container was made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) a type of plastic with toxic effects on the body because it contains DEHA, while the number 7 indicates a series of different plastics including polycarbonate that contains bisphenol A usually abbreviated to BPA also defined in the scientific field endocrine disruptor, is a fundamental brick in the synthesis of plastics and plastic additives and its derivatives have been on the market for more than 50 years.
DEHA, according to numerous studies, causes long-term loss of weight and bone mass, liver damage and damage to the reproductive system, cancer and is not only toxic when used in contact with food but also during its production cycle and disposal..
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical mainly used in combination with other chemicals to produce plastics and resins.
For example, BPA is used in polycarbonate, a type of rigid, transparent, high-performance plastic.
Polycarbonate is used to produce food containers such as returnable vacuum beverage bottles, feeding bottles, plastic tableware (plates and cups) and food storage containers.
Residues of BPA are also present in epoxy resins used to produce protective films and coatings for cans and vats.
BPA can migrate in small amounts into food and drink stored in materials that contain it.
The initials indicating the type of plastic are:
1] PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate
Generally considered safe, it is the most widely used material for the manufacture of plastic bottles for mineral water, soft drinks, ketchup, mouthwashes and containers for storing or heating food in the microwave oven. So imagine unsafe plastics!
See below all the dangers of PET:
- Reuse, both for heating food and for storing liquids, is highly discouraged. Recent studies have, in fact, highlighted its dangerousness, as PET tends to deteriorate and spread into the food inside the container. In particular, in the samples the presence of a toxin called DEHA has been detected, suspected to be carcinogenic and toxic for reproduction and liver.
- PET releases antimony, a toxic metalloid, within limits set by law if the bottles are stored at room temperature. If, on the other hand, the bottles are subjected to higher temperatures and/or stored for a longer period of time, the amount of the metalloid may increase dangerously. At the same time as antimony, the release of the well-known brominated compounds, including PBDE, an all-pervasive environmental pollutant with potential endocrine disrupting and neurotoxic effects, has been detected.
- As its name suggests, PET contains phthalates, plasticizers that serve to make plastics more flexible and are generally considered harmless. It is unfortunate that a German study by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, published online in 2009, not only lists numerous previous studies that have detected hormone-mimic phthalates in mineral water bottled in PET bottles,* it states: “Our findings provide the first evidence of extensive contamination of mineral water (bottled in PET no. d.A) from xeno-estrogens, typically between 2-40 ng/l EEQ (estradiol equivalent = equivalent to estradiol – the sex hormone prevalent in women).
- Consumption of mineral water may therefore contribute to human exposure to endocrine disruptors. In addition, such contamination is likely to result from plastic packaging material because mineral water bottled in PET and Tetra Pak is more estrogenic than water bottled in glass. This finding supports the hypothesis that additives – plasticisers or catalysts – migrate from the plastic packaging to the food they contain… It is possible that only the tip of the iceberg has been identified and that plastic packaging is a primary source of xenohormon contamination of many other foods.
2] PE-HD or High Density Polyethylene
It is considered to be low risk, but a recent study has detected the release of hormone-mimicking chemicals from most plastics, including high-density polyethylene
The study, among other things, highlights the existing possibility of eliminating all compounds with “estrogenic activity” (EA, estrogenic activity) from plastics manufacturing and at production prices no higher than the current ones.
Used to produce shopping bags and pack, among the countless products, milk, fruit juices, shampoos, cosmetics, dish and laundry detergents and household cleaning products. It has a very high environmental cost.
3] PVC or polyvinyl chloride
It is generally considered the most endangered plastic because it can contain very dangerous phthalates, such as DEHP, used to make the plastic more resistant, soft and flexible. As a rule, if the plastic is soft it will contain phthalates.
The major PVC user industries are the construction, electrical, automotive and sports equipment industries.
The products: 90% of food films, transparent food trays for industrial use, wallpaper, vinyl flooring (linoleum), shower curtains, plastic tablecloths, fake leather objects, sports shoes and clothes, soft plastic toys (choose those that indicate phthalate-free), children’s balloons and inflatable tubs, lifebuoys, truck covers, pipes, window frames, insulating materials, blister containers, sealing lids, medical products such as plasma bags and soft tubes.
N.B. Safe food films are those in bioplastic. Biodegradable, compostable and permeable, they extend the shelf life of food.
4] PE-LD or low density polyethylene.
It is considered a lower risk plastic because it is composed only of carbon and hydrogen.
Here are some uses:
- PE marked food grade films,
- shopping bags,
- rubbish bags,
- cartons for fresh milk,
- fruit juices,
- hot and cold drinking glasses;
- lids for jars,
5] PP or Polypropylene
It is generally considered a safe and phthalate-free plastic, but, on the contrary, the use of phthalates for its production appears to be widespread.
Here are some uses:
- car components,
- toys (hard plastic),
- strainers, funnels, colander,
- containers for food or water,
- jars for yoghurt, margarine and take-away meals;
- bottle caps of all kinds,
- scoops, sacks, bags, fabrics, chairs and various furnishings, carpets, stationery and watering cans.
6] PS or Polystyrene or Polystyrene
Another plastic to avoid, as its main component, styrene, can migrate from containers to the food it contains!
Although both the American Food and Drug Administration and European Food Safety Administration declare this material safe and a recent study by Harvard University confirmed its safety, stating that styrene, the main constituent of polystyrene, is naturally present in foods such as strawberries or beef, and is a by-product of the processing of wine or cheese, under “styrene” on the website of the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health, the substance is defined as a probable carcinogen. For the production of polystyrene, benzene, a known human carcinogenic compound, is also used.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under “styrene”, in addition to listing a long list of central nervous system disorders following chronic (neurotoxic) exposure, including depression and hearing loss, states that “several epidemiological studies suggest that there may be an association between exposure to styrene and an increased risk of leukaemia and lymphoma”.
No less than 90 toxic substances have been detected in polystyrene incineration gases in an ordinary incinerator burning at 800-900°.
The huge turnover of these low-cost plastics is all the more worrying the more their use puts them in direct contact with food.
Main uses: take-away food containers with typical pivot (transparent plastic and expanded polystyrene), containers for eggs, meat and cheese, take-away ice cream containers, yoghurt containers (white jars), insulation material for all types of packaging, hard plastic applications: cups, toys, CD containers and disposable razors.
A study carried out in 2007 reveals the presence of styrene and other aromatic compounds in the water of PS-labelled bottles and a continuous release of the same that increases in proportion to storage time.
The study detects styrene and a discreet cocktail of other toxic substances in the hot water of polystyrene and expanded polystyrene cups.
7] Other plastics (non-recyclable)
It is considered the most dangerous class for possible damage to the environment and/or human health.
Various cocktails of the above mentioned plastics or new compounds, to this ‘ghost’ category belong Polymethylmethacrylate, Polyptic Acid, Nylon, Glass Fibre and Polyurethane used, among other things, as thermal insulation, in mattresses and pillows, to protect solid wood floors and other uses.
One of the most insidious and all-pervasive plastics designated with No. 7 is Polycarbonate, a polymer based on Bisphenol A – BPA – or its recent substitute, BPS, which recent studies hypothesize is even more harmful than the original (so pay attention to the wording “BPA free”!).
Bisphenol is a chemical compound that simulates the action of female hormones, discovered in the first decades of the last century as part of research aimed at creating synthetic estrogens. It is, therefore, a dangerous endocrine disruptor that destroys the hormonal balance of individuals.
A recent Harvard University study found a 69% – two-thirds – increase in bisphenol A in the urine of students examined after only one week in which they drank cold drinks from polycarbonate bottles.
In the case of Bisphenol A, the legal limits cannot protect because, on the one hand, it is an endocrine disruptor that alters hormone levels in the human body and which, in delicate phases of development, especially in the foetus and in early childhood, can have disruptive effects even in trace amounts; on the other hand, since the sources are countless, it can easily create an accumulation.
An American study in 2005 found BPA in 95% of people surveyed.
An important joint statement made by a number of scientists who have been analysing the compound for decades states that the damage they found on laboratory animals reflects the rapidly increasing disease trend in the human population: increased breast and prostate cancer, abnormalities of the urogenital system in male infants, premature menarche in girls, decline in male sperm quality, metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes and obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as hyperactivity disorder (ADHAD) and even allergic asthma.
BPA also appears to have epigenetic effects, i.e., it modifies gene expression, in this case it would suppress the expression of a gene that is vital for the functioning of nerve cells and the development of the central nervous system, predisposing to disorders of neurological development, such as autism.
Used to build reusable water containers for offices, bottles for drinks, juices and ketchup, pans for microwave ovens, inner lining of food jars and boxes, thermal cash receipts (yes, receipts for payment of purchases!) and, until recently, feeding bottles (attention, therefore, at the date of production, it must be recent).
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Avoid plastic as far as possible. The only one that, at the moment, seems totally harmless is No. 4, while on all the other types there are studies that hypothesize a certain degree of harmfulness.
Those to be discarded without hesitation are n° 3, 6 and 7, respectively PVC/phthalates, polyester/styrene and polycarbonate/Bisphenol A, but as a general rule it is good to replace plastic objects with other natural and biological materials.
Drink water in glass or bioplastic bottles, buy fresh and unpackaged food.
Do not be afraid to look crazy and ask the person who runs a supermarket for the materials that wrap or welcome the food for sale.
ALL DAMAGE PLASTICS CAN BE REPLACED BY BIOPLASTIC OPTIMATED BY MAIS OR, ADDIRECTION, AGRICULTURAL DISPOSAL MATERIALS, quickly solving both environmental and human problems.
For the conservation, transport or consumption of food, use glass or ceramic containers.