Plastic Pollution
March 02 2020

Tea Bags & 9 Other Sneaky Sources of Plastic

by Rachael Coccia

1) Tea Bags

How it contains plastic: You may have been warned against microwaving your leftovers in plastic containers since heating plastic speeds the transfer of toxic chemicals and releases microplastics into your food. So, by the same logic, shouldn’t we avoid soaking plastic bags in boiling hot water that we plan to consume? This study found that steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics. Just when we thought we were making a healthy choice to shake up our morning caffeine craving!

Ways to avoid it: This doesn’t mean you should stop enjoying tea altogether. Loose leaf tea gives you all the benefits, minus the plastic. Look up a local tea store near you or search the web for endless options. It often comes at a higher price point so you may want to consider making your own. Peppermint, chamomile, lavender, ginger, and lemon, are all the ingredients you need to make some tasty blends. Add some orange, vanilla, or cinnamon for added flavor.

 

2) Chip Bags

How it contains plastic: Nobody likes a stale chip. That’s why most chip bags are made from aluminum laminated with polypropylene. The aluminum gives the bag structure while the plastic keeps moisture away to preserve that crispy crunch. However, this hybrid material makes it near impossible to recycle - although Terracycle will take them!

Ways to avoid it: Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of these salty snacks. However, I recently found a new love – kale chips. They’re easy to make and serve as a much healthier alternative to store-bought chips. You can also turn to nuts, granola, trail mix, dried fruit, or other healthier alternatives often available in bulk at your local health food store. Just don’t forget your reusable bag or container to fill!

 

3) Cans

How it contains plastic: Aluminum can be easily corroded by fizzy drinks and other liquids often packaged in a can. To prevent those substances from eating through the can, most contain a plastic-based liner. With the plastic liner often comes the endocrine disrupting compound BPA, or other similar synthetic compound. It’s important to note that even if something is “BPA-free” it may have been replaced with another equally as harmful alternative. These compounds can alter the natural production of hormones in our bodies causing a slew of medical concerns.

Ways to avoid it: The best solution is to refill beverages in stainless steel or glass reusable containers. When that’s not available, opt for the single-use glass bottle or container instead. Or perhaps it is something you can just go without. You can also make your own sodas and buy more fresh ingredients over canned goods. Remember, dosage plays a big role so don’t panic if you still need to use cans, just cut back where you can!

 

4) Paper Cups & Molded fiber Containers

How it contains plastic: Ever wonder how your hot coffee never soaks through the paper cup? It’s not magic, it’s plastic. Similar to cans, paper cups are lined with a thin layer of plastic. However, toxic chemicals from the plastic can leach into our beverage, especially when heated. Similarly, a class of chemicals known as PFAS are added to molded fiber bowls to ensure your leftovers don’t make your to-go container soggy, making this seemingly eco-friendly option not so friendly after all.

Ways to avoid it: In today’s fast-paced society, takeout seems like a great option; but is it worth the wasteful products that can harm both you and the environment? Slow down and enjoy your meal by dining at an Ocean Friendly Restaurant. These restaurants have committed to serve only reusables for on-site dining so you know you’ll be in the clear! When takeout is unavoidable, you know you can trust your handy stainless steel container or insulated tumbler. Find links to these and many other helpful products in this blog titled, “Reach Your 2020 Resolution to Reduce Plastic Use.”

 

5) Microwavable Popcorn

How it contains plastic: Remember how many paper products contain a plastic liner and toxic PFAS chemicals? Microwavable popcorn bags are no exception. It helps keep the buttery, greasy goodness contained in the bag until it’s done popping. Problem is, you must heat the bag to get the kernels to pop, thereby releasing those PFAS into your food. Bonus: avoid non-stick cookware for these same reasons.

Ways to avoid it: This by no means should stop you from enjoying this low-calorie, movie-lovers snack. Simply pop your own kernels of the stove! Not only is it easy, the popcorn actually tastes better too. You can even save money and avoid packaging altogether by buying kernels in bulk, where available.

 

6) Chewing Gum

How it contains plastic: Most gum is plastic with added flavors and coloring. Wish I could go back and warn my pre-teen self before I developed that nasty gum-chewing habit! There’s lots of other fillers and additives to give it that unique long-lasting chewy property – but the base ingredient is plastic.

Ways to avoid it: Thankfully, plastic-free gum is on the market with brands like Glee or Simply Gum. Or you can try to ween yourself off of gum entirely by switching to all-natural mints, breathe spray, mint-infused water, or just chew on some mint leaves!

 

7) Glitter

How it contains plastic: Glitter is colorful microplastics. It’s as simple as that. When you wash it down the drain you are sending it straight into the environment where it can be consumed by wildlife. Not to mention the toxic chemicals in glitter can be absorbed through your skin. There’s been talk of banning glitter for years but, until it is, we need to stop the demand.

Ways to avoid it: I get it. Glitter is fun and flirty – but at what cost? Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the sake of our ocean friends, not to mention our personal health. Be wary of eco-glitter and its biodegradable claims. These are often not tested and are made from bioplastics which can do just as much damage to wildlife. Use shredded recycled paper for a crafting and just skip the body glitter. You look fabulous without it!

 

8) Wet Wipes

How it contains plastic: Convenient? Yes, but also destructive. Wet wipes are commonly made of cotton woven together with polyester along with often a number of untested chemicals to preserve them and give them that distinct fragrance. You should especially avoid so-called “flushable” wipes, even if they claim to be biodegradable. Not only are you sending it on a one-way ride to polluting the environment, they can also cause sewage blockages which is a costly and nasty mess to clean up. Just do a search for fatberg to see what I mean.

Ways to avoid it: If it’s sanitation you’re looking for, look no further than good old-fashioned soap and water. Fragrance-free alcohol hand sanitizers are a better alternative when you need something on the go. For wiping surfaces, make your own using cloth or paper towels and natural-based cleaning solutions. For wiping skin, here’s a great DIY project for reusable baby wipes. Using reusable wipes will also save you money in the long run!

 

9) Clothing

How it contains plastic: You’re probably wearing plastic. Just take a look at the tag on the clothes you’re wearing now. Plastic fabric is commonly listed as polyester, rayon, acrylic, spandex, and nylon - among other names. Washing plastic-based clothing releases microplastics which end up polluting our waterways.  Additionally, our skin is the largest organ in the body and can absorb endocrine disrupting compounds from plastic fabrics. Acrylic is, in particular, one of the more dangerous materials we put on our bodies.

Ways to avoid it: Thankfully, not all clothes are made from plastic. Some of the most common natural fabrics are wool, cotton, and hemp. Just like we should be reading nutritional labels on the food we buy, we should also be reading the tags on clothing. It is just as important that we don’t get caught up in fast fashion. It’s easy to justify a new shirt when it’s on sale for $10, but maybe now that you know the true cost of clothing, you’ll think twice before your next shopping spree.

 

10) Furniture and Carpets

How it contains plastic: You’re probably sitting on plastic, too. Common plastic-based synthetic fabrics used in furniture and carpets include foam, polyester, rayon, olefin, nylon, polyurethane, polypropylene, and composite wood. These synthetic materials can cause respiratory problems, hormone disruption, and general skin irritation. Considering we (should) spend about 8 hours a day of quality time with your sheets, pillows, and mattress, shouldn’t we care about what they’re made of? Just like clothing can harm our bodies, so can the furniture we use on a daily basis.

Ways to avoid it: Similar to the natural-based alternatives for clothing, we can turn to natural latex, cotton, jute, wool, or true wooden furniture instead. Granted, these will be harder to come by and are often more expensive, so this may not be a solution for everyone. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to get quality second-hand furniture (Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, vintage shops, etc.) where you may be able to find natural-based items at a lower price. At the very least, you’ll be reducing the demand for new synthetic-based products. You can also consider wood or tile flooring to reduce the need to put carpet down in the first place.  

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