The Dangers of Plastic and What You Can Do To Be Safe

The news about plastics has been pretty alarming lately, causing some of us to go dashing for the water bottles to see what kind of plastic they are—and find out if we’ve been unwittingly poisoning our children and ourselves with chemicals leaching into the water from them.

In addition to creating safety problems during production, many chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties also have negative environmental and human health effects. 
These effects include:
  • Direct toxicity, as in the cases of lead, cadmium, and mercury
  • Carcinogens, as in the case of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)
  • Endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancers, birth defects, immune system supression and developmental problems in children.
The 8 Dangers of Plastic

Plastic is very much a staple in the world today but it’s definitely not a perfect product. There are a slew of toxins within many plastics, including BPA. 

Here are 8 dangers of plastic and how it’s negatively affecting our health.

1. Chemicals in Plastic Disfigure Genitals

Di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) is a phthalate commonly found in vinyl products. It was actually a chemical chosen to replace a similar toxin, DEHP, which was discovered to hinder genital development in baby boys. While less is known about the reproductive risks of DiNP, a recent study suggests that it can, in fact, affect male genital development. This is worrisome because these problems occur before birth. While many phthalates are banned from children’s products, the pregnant mother can still be exposed.

2. Plastic Increases the Risk of Childhood Asthma

Studies have long suggested a connection between childhood exposure to plasticizers and asthma, but a recent Columbia University report found there is even an increased risk before birth.

Scientists studied the phthalate levels of pregnant women over almost a decade and found that children born to mothers with increased levels were over three times more likely to develop asthma symptoms than their counterparts. While no one really knows why the risk is higher, one theory suggests that phthalates increase airway sensitivity, essentially paving the way for asthma symptoms.

3. Chemicals in Plastic Kill Female Libido

Phthalates used in plastic have even been linked to low libido in women, with a recent study even suggesting women with high levels of plasticizers were twice as likely to show less interest in sex than those with low levels.

While you may try to limit your exposure, phthalates are often found in everyday items like shower curtains, PVC flooring, car dashboards, and even food. These toxins are endocrine disruptors and can wreak havoc with hormone levels, so limiting your exposure is key.

4. Plastic is Destroying our Waterways

An estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litters each square kilometer of our oceans, and one huge factor to the problem are microbeads. These tiny plastic beads in many of your personal care products are only one of the environmental contaminants polluting our waters. 

Once in the water supply (by way of your drain), the beads collect toxins. Marine life is exposed to the microplastics and the toxins enter the food chain; but it’s not just our oceans that are affected. In the U.S., the issue of microbeads has become so toxic that many states are looking at banning them.

5. Plastic Has Infiltrated Food

With 6 different phthalates banned from children’s products in the U.S., the last place you’d expect to find these toxins would be in our food. 

Acrylamide is a fairly common plasticizer that’s been linked to cancer, and other phthalates linked to problems with reproductive development have been appearing at unsafe levels as well. No one really knows how they’re getting into the food, but somehow this is happening before it gets to your home.

6. Plastic Destroys Hormonal Balance

BPA mimics estrogen in the body, so many people try to stay away from the toxin by using BPA-free plastics instead. A recent study suggests, however, that BPA-free plastics could also contain endocrine disruptors. In a test of fourteen resins used in plastic production, four were found to have estrogen-like properties. 

Not only are things like reusable water bottles and food storage containers at risk, but certain baby products may also contain the unhealthy compound. Phthalates are still a huge concern in plastic packaging, but these plasticizers are also used in personal care products.

7. Do Not Heat Food In Plastic Containers

Heating plastics in containers or plastic bags in the microwave or storing warm food & beverages in plastic containers enhances leaching of chemical as heat disturbs the molecules in the material and cause them to break down into their component chemicals. Compared to other foods, oily or fatty foods absorb more chemicals. Doing this is linked to cancer...instead, empty contents of TV dinner or food in containers into a glass or ceramic bowl or dish. Better safe than sorry!

8. You Simply Can’t Trust the Plastic Industry

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had to crack down on some plastic bag manufacturers for making uncertain claims. The issue had to do with labeling the bags ‘oxo-degradable,’ a term that implies it’ll biodegrade when exposed to oxygen. 

Now, it’s likely that many of these bags will, unfortunately, end up in a landfill where little oxygen is present, meaning nothing can break down. 

At most, the bags might fragment into small pieces, but the pollutants are still there. Essentially, the bags are no more biodegradable than regular ones. Even worse, this is only the latest incident in a string of bogus claims by the plastic industry.

There are so many things wrong with using plastic, and I’ve only covered 8 of them here.

Chemical Migration from Plastic Packaging into Contents

People are exposed to these chemicals not only during manufacturing, but also by using plastic packages, because some chemicals migrate from the plastic packaging to the foods they contain.

Examples of plastics contaminating food have been reported with most plastic types, including Styrene from polystyrene, plasticizers from PVC, antioxidants from polyethylene, and Acetaldehyde from PET.
PlasticCommon UsesAdverse Health Effects
Polyvinylchloride (#3PVC)Food packaging, plastic wrap, containers for toiletries, cosmetics, crib bumpers, floor tiles, pacifiers, shower curtains, toys, water pipes, garden hoses, auto upholstery, inflatable swimming poolsCan cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction
Phthalates (DEHP, DINP, and others)Softened vinyl products manufactured with phthalates include vinyl clothing, emulsion paint, footwear, printing inks, non-mouthing toys and children’s products, product packaging and food wrap, vinyl flooring, blood bags and tubing, IV containers and components, surgical gloves, breathing tubes, general purpose labware, inhalation masks, many other medical devicesEndocrine disruption, linked to asthma, developmental and reporoductive effects. Medical waste with PVC and pthalates is regularly incinerated causing public health effects from the relese of dioxins and mercury, including cancer, birth defects, hormonal changes, declining sperm counts, infertility, endometriosis, and immune system impairment.
Polycarbonate, with Bisphenol A (#7)Water bottlesScientists  have linked very low doses of bisphenol A exposure to cancers, impaired  immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and  hyperactivity, among other problems (Environment California)
PolystyreneMany food containers for meats, fish, cheeses, yogurt, foam and clear clam shell containers, foam and rigid plates, clear bakery containers, packaging "peanuts", foam packaging, audio cassette housings, CD cases, disposable cutlery, building insulation, flotation devices, ice buckets, wall tile, paints, serving trays, throw-away hot drink cups, toysCan irritate eyes, nose and throat and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. Migrates into food and stores in body fat. Elevated rates of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers for workers.
Polyethelyne (#1 PET)Water and soda bottles, carpet fiber, chewing gum, coffee stirrers, drinking glasses, food containers and wrappers, heat-sealed plastic packaging, kitchenware, plastic bags, squeeze bottles, toysSuspected human carcinogen
PolyesterBedding, clothing, disposable diapers, food packaging, tampons, upholsteryCan cause eye and respiratory-tract irritation and acute skin rashes
Urea-formaldehydeParticle board, plywood, building insulation, fabric finishesFormaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen and has been shown to cause birth defects and genetic changes. Inhaling formaldehyde can cause cough, swelling of the throat, watery eyes, breathing problems, headaches, rashes, tiredness
Polyurethane FoamCushions, mattresses, pillowsBronchitis, coughing, skin and eye problems. Can release toluene diisocyanate which can produce severe lung problems
AcrylicClothing, blankets, carpets made from acrylic fibers, adhesives, contact lenses, dentures, floor waxes, food preparation equipment, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, paintsCan cause breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weakness, headache and fatigue
Non-stick coating on cookware, clothes irons, ironing board covers, plumbing and toolsCan irritate eyes, nose and throat and can cause breathing difficulties


Find alternatives to plastic products whenever possible.

Some specific suggestions:
  • Avoid polycarbonate drinking bottles with Bisphenol A
  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers and plastic bags, or storing fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap.
  • Do not give young children plastic teethers or toys
  • Use natural fiber clothing, bedding and furniture
  • Avoid all PVC and Styrene products
  • Buy food in glass or metal containers
  • Say NO to plastic bags at the stores-request paper bags or bring your own
  • Avoid plastic packaged food
  • Instead of using plastic utensils, rely on the longer-lasting variety
  • Instead of using a plastic coffee-maker or going out for coffee, use a French press or ceramic drip
But, plastic is everywhere, so toxins can be found in the places you might not know about, like: