Why You Don’t Want to Use StyroFoam Dishes This Summer (or Ever!)

 

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It is finally summer fair and barbeque season. Yippee! However, I am reminded how often I see food being handed out on styrofoam plates and containers and why this is should be of concern to everyone.

I have always hated the feel of styrofoam cups on my lips so I started avoiding it years ago. I have since learned it contains some serious toxic compounds which can leach out into food. So shouldn’t we all be avoiding it? The challenge is that it is still so widely used.  As it’s likely you too will run into it this season, best to know WHY and HOW  to avoid styrofoam.

What is styrofoam??

  • Styrofoam is a trademarked name for an extruded foam made from polystyrene
  • Polystyrene is a synthetic compound derived from petroleum, and contains toxic compounds such as benzene. It is a lightweight, insulating material that is used in many formats in industry…unfortunately including disposable dish ware.

Studies have shown that the styrene leaches out of the styrofoam and into our bodies when we use styrofoam cups and plates.  In fact, a study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found just that when the food (or drink) inside was hot. If it makes you feel any better, it was also found that styrene didn’t leach out of foam egg cartons, which are usually refrigerated. so we can assume the most harm to human health comes when the styrofoam is heated.

However the direct impact on human health shouldn’t be our only concern. Styrofoam has become an acute environmental issue. The Environmental Protection Agency released a report (1986) listing the polystyrene manufacturing process  as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste. Fifty-seven toxic chemical byproducts are released during the manufacturing process of polystyrene, including benzene. Just think of the workers who manufacture it if nothing else.

As well, styrofoam takes 500 years to decompose. It makes up 25-30% of our world’s landfills AND has become a major source of marine pollution. And even though styrofoam is no longer manufactured with CFC (‘chlorofluorocarbon’ the famous ozone depleting chemical), it still uses hydrofluorocarbons linked to depleting the ozone layer and affecting global warming.

How to Avoid Styrofoam:

  • Look for the number 6. Polystyrene foam should be easy to spot by looking for a 6 inside the chasing arrow (aka ‘the mobius loop) symbol.  Unfortunately, polystyrene is also used in non-foam food containers, including clear-plastic clamshells and coffee-cup lids.
  • Don’t frequent restaurants or take out places that offer this type of food container.
  • BE PREPARED and take your own environmentally-friendly food and drink containers where you can to picnics, BBQs and fairs.

And remember that even though many jurisdictions are now trying to recycle styrofoam.. it is not a good option to use in the first place. So many chemicals used in its production affecting workers and our environment. We can all do better for the sake of our health, other people, AND our environment. So get yourself some stainless or glass re-usable containers and bamboo plates.

This post was inspired by the work of SaferChemicalsHealthyFamilies who work tirelessly to inform people of hidden toxins in their consumer goods….for which we should all be thankful 🙂

 

Babies Are Born ‘Pre-Polluted’. So What’s A Parent To Do?

Recently Environmental Defence Canada reported on the results from testing umbilical cord blood OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof three newborn babies born in Toronto and Hamilton, ON. A small sample size that indicated a potentially HUGE issue. Each baby was found to contain 55 to 121 toxic compounds such as flame retardants, PCB’s, organochloride pesticides, dioxins and furans, mercury and lead. Of 137 toxic compounds found in these wee babies, 132 are reported to cause cancer. So before our babies can even say the words….they are subject to these horrific toxins.

It is important to note that the test results reported by Environmental Defence, by no way are the result of the actions of any one of the women whose baby was tested. The reality is that toxic chemicals are most everywhere….including in a significant number of common household products. Lax laws on toxic chemicals are affecting all of us including our newborn babies.

Luckily, organizations on both sides of the 49th parallel are urging both the US and Canadian governments to make change and to tighten laws around toxic chemicals. This is an issue where conventional borders often mean nothing. Irregardless of where you live, it is most important to note that the US and Canada share waterways, airways, and consumer goods.  Lax laws affect all of us. While we all wait (Read: law reform can be very slow!), there are steps we can all take toward reducing our individual toxic loads:

1) Speak up! Feel free to sign petitions such as this one to get laws put in place to protect us. Give backing to those who are working on all of our behalf.

2) Follow and support organizations who are working on all of our behalf everyday. In addition to Environmental Defence, I follow Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Women’s Voices For The Earth. I cannot tell parents how fabulous the information is I get just by ‘liking’ or following these organization that report on this subject matter everyday.

3) Inform yourself!  I like to say ‘make google your best friend’. Research and then make the decisions you feel are easiest and most important for you and for your own family. The Top 10 worst household toxins are easily found on-line making them easier for you to avoid.

4) Know that toxic chemicals are finding their way to you in your bodycare products, clothing, beds, couches, food, toys, backpacks, lunchboxes, laundry detergent just to name a few.  I know it can be overwhelming but make one small change at a time.  It becomes easy and feels so good to know you are reducing your family’s toxic load.

5) My mantra is ‘speak with your wallet’. I choose not to buy from companies that are not making change toward cleaner products and conversely I wholeheartedly support those who are. Companies that fight the move toward cleaner products or call it ‘fear-mongering’ when we ask for chemicals banned in other countries to be eliminated from products in our country, lose me AND my dollars.

6) Make it your business to know what is in your family’s foods. organochloride pesticides were found in that cord blood. Research organic farming and see why foods grown organically might suit your family better. Know what genetically-modified food is and that toxins are spliced right into the foods we eat.  Then make the decision if you want your family to eat that type of food? Or speak up so none of us have to even make that decision. Really all food should be free from toxins, shouldn’t it? Know that it has become the norm in processed grocery-store foods to add oodles of health-affecting additives most people don’t even know are there. For instance take a look at what is commonly in commercial breads. Who wants that for breakfast?

7) Choose safe body care products from reputable businesses. In Canada, Environmental Defence has a list of some pretty fabulous companies that offer all-natural and good quality products. And I am a fan of the Skin Deep database for being the best single database around for families to check out what is in their cosmetic products. Know that hundreds of UNTESTED toxic substances are allowed in bodycare in Canada and the US. Read your labels..research ingredients you find such as methylisothiazoline, oxybenzone, Quaternium-15, parabens, BHA, BHT, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate….just to name a few. Once you know what these chemicals are suspect of, you may change up the products you have been using.

8) Say ‘no’ to plastics! I know its a challenge but we all can do it it. Ditch the plastic wrap, plastic grocery bags, plastic toys, plastic shower curtains, plastic drinking containers, plastic rain gear.  And know some companies are even using plastics in exfoliating skincare products! So ditch the polluting plastic skincare products too….

Seemingly small changes by all of us can make a big difference not only to us here and now, but to our children and their children. Perhaps from all of our combined efforts, in a generation or two, babies will no longer be born ‘pre-polluted’.

Feel free to share changes you are or will be making toward reducing your family’s toxic load. We always love to hear from you!

Retailers: Naughty or Nice?

I read a post today which made me think.  And when something provokes thought I like to share.

Yesterday in the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families blog, a study was posted where retailers were ranked in terms of their commitment to cosmetic safety. To me it is not important whether you necessarily shop these particular retailers or not but that we all understand that some retailers are diligent and care about what they stock and some are not.

In this particular study, Whole Foods came out on top.  No surprise as they have a long list of substances they won’t allow in their products and suppliers must comply or go elsewhere.  They even make this list public so consumers like you and I can check it out and know their policies. Kudos!

If you don’t shop any of the retailers noted in the study…not important.  There are retailers making a difference everywhere. Our job as concerned consumers is to find our own local best options. Take for instance Terra20 in Ottawa.  They have adopted the Whole Foods style list of ingredients they will not stock. This includes such dastardly ingredients as dibutyl phthalate (so none of this), BHA/BHT (so no Desitin baby cream), formaldehyde-releasing preservatives ( so no Johnson and Johnson Baby shampoo), parabens (so no Philosophy), and no Sodium Laureth Sulfate (so definitely no Kiehl’s Gentle Baby Wash or Aveeno Baby). Terra20 provides a great model for other retailers to follow.

So this Season you can determine yourself if your retailer is naughty or nice and make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to shop there. Essentially you need to be a warrior for your own health.  And don’t forget you are the customer so if you are not happy with something that is being stocked at your local retailer, don’t be shy TELL THEM.  If enough of us remind retailers that consumers care about the ingredients they are putting on their bodies, the more of them will take note and offer cleaner products.

And take a look at this petition The Campaign for Safe cosmetics has put together asking retailers to take their customers health seriously. You can sign it here if you wish.

Happy conscious shopping!