Plastics: Problems and Solutions

Plastics: Problems and Solutions

Jeffrey Morrison by Jeffrey Morrison

Plastics: Problems and Solutions

April 19, 2019

Dr. Morrison recently shared his take on plastics and their impact on the environment and our health on the Highway to Well Podcast. There are plenty of cleaner, healthier alternatives to plastics — learn about them and start making better choices! Available to listen here and on major podcast platforms including iTunes and Overcast.  


As healthcare providers at The Morrison Center, our first priority — the Hippocratic oath — is to “Do no Harm.” This applies to our work in the medical field, and in life.

By our own admission, we have transgressed. Just as we’ve come to realize the impacts of our dietary choices on both our bodies and our environment, and have adjusted our habits accordingly, we’re having a new revelation about our use of the single-use plastic and toxic skin care products. If you’re still using these products, you’re also contributing to a serious problem.


HOW DID PLASTICS BECOME SO UBIQUITOUS? -

Plastics have been around for over a century. They were invented in 1907 to serve as synthetic substitutes for more natural materials that were becoming scarce. The synthetic substitute for Shellac (originally a natural resin secreted by the Asian female lac bug) was the first commercial use of petroleum-derived plastic, used as a durable insulator for a rapidly electrifying United States.

World War II greatly expanded the plastics industry and became a golden age for plastics, since it provided an inexpensive, reliable, sturdy replacement for hard-to-source natural materials. Natural silk was replaced with synthetic Nylon for parachutes, ropes, and helmets. Glass was replaced with Plexiglas as a shatter-proof surface in aircrafts.

After the war, plastic use in daily life expanded significantly as wartime industries sought to find new applications during peacetime. This introduced the use of single-use plastics, including plastic straws, plastic cups and bottles, plastic bags, plastic packaging, and even cigarette butts.

By the 1960s, plastic production had ramped up by over 400%, and the public began to recognize its environmental impact, as plastic debris started to show up in the oceans. By the 1970s, more single-use plastic was being produced than steel.

Fast-forward to 2014: 100 billion plastic bags were used that year in the US alone, and 5 trillion globally.

The total amount of plastics produced since the 1950s is estimated to be about 8.3 billion tons. That’s about the same weight as 1600 Great Pyramids of Giza. And today, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic every year, which is equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Even worse, at least 50% of plastics used are disposable and single-use.


- WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM -

There are three main issues with plastics

1. PLASTICS PERSIST - They last in the environment for a VERY long time (and they’re difficult to recycle).

2. PLASTICS MICRONIZE - They break down into very fine particles that cause health and environmental problems.

3. PLASTICIZERS INTERFERE WITH OUR HORMONES


 

- PLASTICS PERSIST IN THE ENVIRONMENT -

While we use plastics in a matter of seconds or minutes, it can take 500 to 1,000 years, for plastics to degrade.

Of the plastics in landfills, every year, 13 million tons end up in rivers, lakes, and the ocean, where they are consumed by sea life and birds.

The documentary “Albatross” by Chris Jordan is a powerful, moving story about birds living on Midway Island in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, whose bodies are filled with ocean plastics. Is this the legacy we want to leave?


- RECYCLING PLASTICS IS VERY DIFFICULT - 

Plastics are much more difficult to recycle than materials like glass, aluminum, and paper. There are many reasons for this. To name a few:

1. SORTING ISSUES AND CODE CONFUSION:

Although most plastics have a “resin code” on them — that little number inside the arrow triangle — this does not guarantee that the plastic is recyclable. It simply indicates the general type of chemical compound used to make the product.

    • While there are only seven resin codes, there are actually thousands of different types of plastic, which mean different melting points and other variations within the same code.

2. BIG AND BULKY

Plastic bottles are light but take up a lot of space, making it difficult to efficiently collect significant amounts of matching plastic. If caps are left on plastic bottles in recycling bins, this can make compression even more of a challenge.

3. DEAD-END REUSE

Unlike glass or aluminum, most postconsumer bottles are not made into new plastic bottles, but rather lower-grade products like jacket fill, fleece, carpet, toys, or plastic lumber, most of which are not recyclable.

4. CONTAMINATION 

Many plastics are sent to recycling bins with food waste on them, which attracts pests and causes blockages in automated sorting machines.


Worldwide, only about 9% of current plastic waste is recycled, 12% is incinerated (which can release toxic fumes), and 79% ends up in landfills.

Please note, we still advocate recycling your plastics! It’s better than sending it to a landfill or an incinerator! The goal is to reduce our overall use of plastics. Read our suggestions below for ways to replace plastics with more sustainable materials.


PLASTICS MICRONIZE DUE TO SUNLIGHT AND FRICTION -

Microfibers from fleece and synthetic materials are washed into waterways with every laundry load. Microplastics and microfibers are small enough to be eaten by plankton and make their way up the food chain to us. Microplastics are found not only in fish, but in beer, sea salt, and of course, bottled water.

In 2017, Orb Media found that 93% of popular US water brands tested contained up to 10,000 microplastic particles per liter. Some of these are small enough for our bodies to absorb; their effect on our health remains unclear.

To add to this, in the course of just one meal, the average person is likely to consume 100 microplastics and in the course of a year, nearly 70,000.  We are all getting exposed to plastics, without even knowing it.


- PLASTICS AND PLASTICIZERS -

“Plasticizers” — chemicals like BPA and phthalates — are added to plastics to make them softer, more pliable, and translucent. These chemicals leach into our water, food, and our bodies through our skin, particularly when plastics are exposed to sunlight and heat — think plastic water bottles sitting out in the sun, or being used in a sauna.  Sunscreen and body lotions also absorb the plastics they’re bottled in and make their way through our pores. In 2004, the CDC concluded that BPA was found in 93% of urine samples taken from people over age 6.

While the adverse effects on human health remain a topic of controversy, there is an established consensus that plastics are not as benign as we once assumed them to be. The effect that plasticizers have on the body can be rather detrimental. Plasticizers are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs can block, mimic, and disrupt normal hormone signals. This can result in misinformation in the body and lead to health conditions like:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Lower sperm count
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Lower IQ
  • Breast and prostate cancer

Phthalates also present risks to our health because they damage fatty acids, and specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is fundamental to brain health, and affects both memory and cognitive recall. Moreover, phthalates have the potential to create zinc deficiencies and are further responsible for damaging the pancreas, inhibiting hormone function, lowering sulfation, and hindering the body’s ability to make certain enzymes, all of which are necessary for proper detoxification and healing.

Our genetics and detoxification pathways have not evolved to manage microplastics and plasticizers. And we still sorting out all the health consequences.


- WHY SHOULD WE CARE? -

Let’s take a moment to connect the dots as this relates to a hypothetical typical day:

  • You wake up and throw your fleece pajama pants into the hamper to be cleaned.
  • You take a shower and use shampoo and conditioner out of plastic bottles.
  • You apply body lotion (from a plastic bottle) that contains phthalates, a plasticizer, and endocrine disruptor.
  • You grab a coffee on your way to work — either warm coffee in a plastic-lined cup with a plastic lid or iced coffee in a plastic cup with a plastic straw.
  • For breakfast, you enjoy yogurt in a single-serving plastic cup with a plastic lid.
  • For lunch, you pick up a chicken salad in a plastic bowl with plastic utensils, maybe in a plastic to-go bag.
  • You come home from work and open the package you ordered online of more shampoo in plastic bottles, packed in plastic packaging material.
  • All the while, sipping bottled water from a plastic bottle.

In one day, it’s easy to see how one could use 15 pieces of plastic each day.  Now multiply that over a year and 1 person can very conservatively be responsible for 5000 pieces of plastic waste.  This is not sustainable.

The good news is that our actions and choices can make a difference.

Our aim is to identify opportunities for change through becoming aware of how to make better choices. We can make a difference right away by choosing sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics and plasticizer-free products.


- FOLLOW THE 4-R'S -

  1. Reduce the amount of single-use plastics
  2. Choose reusable materials over single-use plastics
  3. Recycle as much as possible
  4. Refuse to use products with plasticizers, like phthalates in personal care products  

In 2017, the UN launched the #cleanseas campaign to engage governments, businesses, and individuals in the fight against marine plastic litter. This campaign aims to address the root cause of marine litter by targeting the production and consumption of single-use plastics. 52 countries have signed on to significantly reduce or eliminate single-use plastics. My office and I have already joined this campaign by educating our staff and patients about ways to reduce our plastic footprint, and we’ve taken tangible steps toward more sustainable practices:

WE'VE REPLACED THIS...  WITH THIS

Plastic utensils

Steel utensils for staff, Wood utensils for patients

Plastic cups and shaker bottles

Paper cups & Reusable steel bottles

Plastic containers Glass containers
Plastic straws and stirrers Glass drinking straws, wooden stirrers
Styrofoam packing material Biodegradable packing material
Plastic bottle supplements Glass bottle supplements when possible
Antibacterial soaps Glycerin soap

    - MORE IDEAS FOR LIVING A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFE -

    REDUCE THIS... REPLACE WITH THIS 
    Plastic water bottles

    Reusable glass or stainless steel water bottles (brands we love include Mountain Valley and Saratoga), countertop water filtration and office water filtration system

    Plastic shopping bags Reusable tote bags or paper bags
    Plastic coffee cups and smoothie cups Reusable glass jars with lids — more coffee and smoothie/juice shops are allowing customers to bring their own reusable bottles
    Single-use plastic K-cups Reusable mesh K-cups (made of metal)
    Eggs in plastic containers Eggs in paper/cardboard containers
    Ziplock baggies and plastic wrap Sustainable material like silicone, beeswax, and reusable cloths

    - CLEAN COSMETICS AND PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS -

    Plastics and plasticizers are part of a larger problem of endocrine disruption — ingredients found in cosmetics and personal care products can contribute to hormone imbalance in a major way. Since 2004, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been pressuring the cosmetics industry to make safer products. The cosmetic industry has learned and evolved a great deal from this initiative. The following websites and apps are useful resources for researching clean personal care products:

    • www.madesafe.org - a non-toxic seal of approval for personal care products
    • www.ewg.org/skindeep/ - online consumer database that assesses and compares the safety of personal care products
    • www.thinkdirtyapp.com/ - an app that educates consumers about the potentially toxic ingredients and empowers ingredient-conscious consumers to choose the safest beauty, personal, and household products
    • www.safecosmetics.org - educational resources for safe cosmetics

    - HOW TO DETOX PLASTICS - 

    While outcome-derived solutions to detoxing from plasticizers remain unknown, it is important to recognize that BPA and phthalates have short half-lives - meaning they are not stored in the body for prolonged periods of time, thus, the most logical treatment is an avoidance of plastics in the first place. But let’s face it, in a world largely consumed by plastic, this is not as easy as it sounds. That is why we’ve outlined several “next best” practices for you to implement in order to alleviate the plastic burden and enhance your detox capacity.

    The first step is to improve liver detoxification, as the liver is the body’s primary filtration system and the organ that does the majority of detoxification. The preferred way to do this is through supplementation. Specifically, adding Diindolylmethane (DIM) to your daily regimen will jump-start your body’s innate ability to detox from the accumulation of harmful toxins. Consider DIM your liver’s ultimate line of defense. DIM is a naturally occurring phytonutrient derived from indole-3-carbinol, which is the compound in cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli and Brussels sprouts). It functions by promoting healthy cell function and proper hormone metabolism.

    We also recommend Detox Nutrients, a supplement that provides comprehensive support for phase I and phase II liver detoxification. It provides cysteine to support the production of glutathione, our body’s master antioxidant, as well as green tea extract to neutralize free radicals. It also harnesses the power of foods like artichoke and watercress to support liver function.

    In addition to DIM, we also suggest adding anything that regulates the immune system, allows the body to clear channels of elimination, and gives the body a break from the chemicals we are exposed to every day. Look no further than our 30 day Daily Benefit Set to revamp your system.

    Yet another way to rid the body of toxins is through mobilization. Perspiration does wonders, be it through a high impact workout or the regular use of a sauna. Coupled with adequate hydration (at least half your body weight in ounces), this study confirms that there is an advantage to inducing perspiration through methods such as sauna use. Sweating was found to be an effective way to eliminate toxic phthalates. We recommend eight minutes of sweating in a sauna three days per week.  

    However, when detoxing, we need to ensure not only that toxins are mobilized, but also transported out of the body. In order to leave the body, toxins must be bound to something, hence the effectiveness of binders. Think of binders as magnets for toxins. By passing through the gut unabsorbed, binders, which are negatively charged, attach to toxins that are positively charged to stimulate detoxification. This means that your body doesn’t have to go through the trouble of trying to process a toxin through the liver and gallbladder, instead, it gets escorted right out of the body. Put simply, binders provide a gentle, yet effective way to support liver detoxification. While there are many binders out there, we prefer activated charcoal because it is highly effective in binding to the toxic material.

    With the recognition that pollutants - in this case, plasticizers, may be predecessors to impaired health, increased attention is being directed toward modalities that facilitate the removal of persistent toxins (and the correlated health risks) from the body. Implementing these interventions may offer health benefits by allowing the body to detox from the plastic dilemma.


    - THE PLASTICS PROTOCOL - 

    30-DAY DAILY BENEFIT DETOX SET

    This detox set includes:
    • One Program Guide to walk you through the program
    • The Morrison Center Shaker Bottle
    • Three Bottles of Daily Benefit Vegan Protein Powder (60 Servings)
    • Two Bottles of Daily Benefit Fiber (40 Servings)
    • One Bottle of Glutamine Plus (60 Servings)

    INDOLE-3-CARBINOL

    This supplement is converted to a number of active compounds that support healthy cell function and cell signaling to maintain breast, cervical and prostate cell health. Indole-3-Carbinol also converts to DIM. We recommend taking 1 capsule twice daily.

    DETOX NUTRIENTS

    This supplement provides comprehensive, high-level support for phase I and phase II liver detoxification - a necessary process for the body to maintain health and vitality. We recommend taking 2 capsules daily.

    ACTIVATED CHARCOAL

    This supplement is a highly absorbent material that binds with toxins in the digestive tract, facilitating their elimination. Charcoal is useful during a targeted detoxification program. We recommend taking 2 capsules at bedtime.

    Additional resources: www.endocrinedisruption.org - list of EDCs in products


    - UPDATE: THE EU BANS SINGLE USE PLASTIC - 

    In October 2018, the European Parliament voted to enact a complete ban on some single-use plastics, including drinking straws, disposable cutlery, and plastic plates, across the EU and a reduction on others for which no alternative exists (single-use food boxes, produce and ice cream containers) in an effort to reduce ocean waste.

    “It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros by 2030.”


    - WE HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO - 

    Now that we’ve become aware of the positive impact we can make as individuals, we can all make better choices and take smarter actions.

    Buddha says, “Each morning we’re born again. What we do today is what matters most.”

    Let’s wake up to the reality of what single-use plastics and plasticizers are having on our health and the health of our planet. There is a role for us to reduce the burden: Let’s refuse single-use plastics, let’s choose plasticizer-free skin care products, and let’s take better care of our planet and each other.


    We'd also like to thank our former intern, Katherine King for her important contributions to this article.


    WE’VE GOT YOUR BACK

    This guide was written by Dr. Morrison and the health and nutrition experts at The Morrison Center. Our team is dedicated to helping you achieve optimal health through the treatment and prevention of disease.

    THE TEAM

    JEFFREY A. MORRISON, MD

    Dr. Jeffrey Morrison is an award-winning medical doctor, a leader in the field of Integrative Medicine, and champion of a nutritional approach to healthcare

     

    ROBIN FOROUTAN, MS, RDN, HHC

    Robin is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in Integrative Medicine, Functional Medicine and holistic healing modalities. She helps her clients address complicated conditions and return to wellness.

     

    STEPHANIE MANDEL, NC, HEALTH COACH

    Stephanie is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Emotional Freedom Technique practitioner with a passion for helping her clients fulfill their potential through both emotional and physical optimization.

     



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