Should we have done a background check on plastic before it became a part of our family?
Plastic has loitered in our kitchen for decades without us even getting to know its last name, shoe size, or dare I say the toxins that it may have dragged through our front door.
In other words, It’s in every part of our lives, but is it actually good for our bodies?
Well, let’s settle in and take a look at plastic’s resume, for better or for worse.
"Most plastic products, from sippy cups to food wraps, can release chemicals that act like the sex hormone estrogen..." (NPR)
Bisphenol A, aka BPA - Plastic’s Original Right Hand Man
My first warning about plastic focused on BPA, a chemical used in hard and clear plastic (such as water bottles, plastic cups, and food storage containers). BPA was said to be an estrogen mimicking compound that could leach into our food, drink and bodies.
But no need to worry, our governments have got our backs, right? If it was really that bad, they'd protect us.... wouldn't they?
In a perfect world - yes - but legislators aren't always [insert dramatic throat clearing sound] perfect…. But before we go down that rabbit hole, let’s see what the research shows.
Ditch the BPA, Safeguard Our Health
Removing BPA from the plastics that we use on a daily basis means that we don’t have to worry about anything leaching into our food or causing any hormonal imbalances in our bodies. Luckily, these days most plastics boast their BPA-free status, which should mean our health is protected, right?
You see, after ditching BPA from plastic an alternate set of chemicals, BPS & BPF, was added. And according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, “BPS and BPF are as hormonally active as BPA, and they have endocrine-disrupting effects.” Well, darn it. This suggests we're no safer with these new compounds than we were with BPA.
“After years of campaigning, health advocates finally convinced many household product manufacturers to remove the chemical Bisphenol A, known as BPA, from items like receipts, plastic bottles and the lining of tin cans. And as a result, it’s not hard to find products labeled “BPA-free.” But it turns out the chemicals used to replace BPA may have nearly the exact impact on the human body — hormone disruption — as BPA, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.” (TIME Magazine)
And another study, of rats this time, showed BPS caused significant heart rhythm abnormalities when given in doses equivalent to those that humans usually experience. The research was proving to be clear - BPA has harmful hormonal effects on our health, and it’s “safe” replacement, BPS? It was seeming to be just as toxic, so tagging our plastics as “BPA-free” had become far from harmless to our health, which is a bit of a bummer.
Phthal… Pftha… what’s a Phthalate?
I’ve done my homework on the BPs, but I kept seeing the word phthalate (how do you pronounce that anyway?) repeatedly showing its face which triggered a further look into what it is, and why it’s needed in plastic.
In essence, phthalates are groups of chemicals that make plastic more flexible, thereby harder to break, but they can also be found in air fresheners, dryer sheets, and personal care products like shampoo, shower gels, and makeup. Phthalates are obviously seen as a huge benefit when being added to our everyday plastics, but we know that just because it it’s seen as useful, doesn’t mean that it’s without its own demons.
So where do we start? A general search for “phthalate” in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives results in a bunch of studies researching associations between phthalate exposure and various effects they can have to our health. From prenatal exposure to phthalates and a link to behaviour problems, to revealing a relation to male genital birth defects, the consideration of whether phthalates are a necessary addition to plastic certainly popped into my mind.
Canada declared BPA to be toxic, but what does that mean?
Let’s throw it back to the year 2008 for a minute - Canada was the first jurisdiction in the world to declare BPA to be toxic. Bravo! Following that declaration was the ban on the manufacture, import, or selling polycarbonate baby bottles that contain BPA. A couple of years later, the US followed suit when the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) amended its regulations to no longer allow BPA to be used in baby bottles and sippy cups. Such forward movement for our nations’ babies!
Neither country, however, has since banned the use of BPA in food related packaging entirely. The FDA even swayed back and forth in its stance on BPA:
“In 2008, the agency determined that BPA is safe. Soon after, the agency’s own scientific board subcommittee issued a report calling the ruling “inadequate” and not reflective of all available research. At press time, the agency was reevaluating its evidence and is expected to issue another ruling soon that could range from upholding its previous position to taking a stance similar to Canada’s.” Harvard T.H. School Of Public Health
Knowing that BPA can leach into the food that we eat, in turn ingesting trace amounts of it, and that a significant portion of our population are found to have BPA in our systems, how can our governments also state that exposure to BPA through food packaging does not pose a health risk to the general population? There must be something that I’m missing.
Is Plastic the New Big Tobacco?
We’re just amateurs over here when it comes to knowing what’s “best” for all of our health, but we’re learning to make better decisions. We come up short, however, when trying to understand why plastic remains to be a safe option for us when it seem that there is so much research that opposes that notion.
If this is feeling familiar it’s because we’ve seen it happen before. Let’s throw in a wayback playback - Big Tobacco, remember them? Big tobacco companies had known since the early 1950s, maybe even earlier, that they had a product that was addicting and later killing people, but they continued to market and sell it. Documents were released showing that Big Tobacco executives tried their hardest to keep this information covered up, and to fabricate studies attempting to disprove that cigarettes were killing people.
Tobacco executives had conspired for years to cover up the addictiveness and deadliness of their product. They had also conspired to cover up the fact that they were marketing their product to kids. Is there reason to believe that we’re replaying history today, replacing tobacco with plastic?
"Since the 1990s, a vast body of research has linked BPA and other chemicals found in plastics to serious health problems, ranging from cancer to infertility. But the industry—often using tactics pioneered by Big Tobacco as it sought to bury evidence about the health risks of smoking—has managed to shield these substances from federal regulation." (Mother Jones)
It’s a tricky spot to be left in - do we trust that our government does what’s best for us, or do we listen to that voice in our head that tell us that something’s just not adding up?
While listening to that voice in my head, I started looking at other options to replace the plastic addiction that had taken ahold of my life.
What are the alternatives to plastic?
While it’s not an “100% natural” material, silicone rubber is a man-made, non-toxic polymer mostly made from silica (sand). It can handle being heated or frozen without leaching or off-gassing hazardous chemicals – unlike plastics, which contaminate food in these environments. Seems like a sure winner, but the flip side of silicone being better for our health is that like plastic, silicone does not break down once we’re done using it.
We can take a step back in time and revisit our good friend, glass. It’s a renewable resource derived from sand that contains no chemicals that can be leached into your food or drinks. Glass is reusable, and when you’re done with it, it can easily be recycled. Though glass will break if dropped, it won’t melt in the microwave, so that’s a plus!
And so etee was born
All of this digging led to a plethora of learning, and that is how etee came to be. We wanted better options for ourselves, our friends and family, all of whom were stuck on pause when it came to stepping away from single-use plastics that we'd come to rely on so heavily. Alternate options were limited and the realization was quick - we needed a better way. Done looking for change, we readied ourselves to BE that change.
We had our reason why, but the next step (and admittedly, the next challenge) was the HOW. Much like the step that drove us to change, how etee wraps were created was based on research. We tried, we tested, but the end result came from a solid check of what exactly it was that we stood for.
As our values tighten, our wraps adapt to keep in line
Since etee was born we’ve stayed open to change, especially when that change leads to powerful forward movement. We had originally started with a beeswax supplier out of Canada - local seemed great, and though we never had any reason to believe that the bees our suppliers worked with were mistreated, we ended up having a lot of the same questions as our customer base about beekeeping practices and wanted to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
That said, we made a switch and now get our beeswax from a Certified Organic supplier, which ensures certain criteria is met including using healthy bees from organic sources, monitoring bees and hives constantly to ensure that they aren’t contaminated, and absolutely no use of antibiotics, pesticides or harmful chemicals in any of the beekeeping practices.
Some say that it’s not perfect, and maybe they're right. We think that it’s a huge step in the right direction.
As we move forward, leaving plastic as a memory of the past, we stay committed to shifting and learning in order to maintain forward movement as front runners in the fight against single-use plastic. Onward ho!