How is it harming our health?
According to a 2019 report from the Center for International Environmental Law about plastic and health:
microplastics that accumulate in the body are a source of chemical contamination to tissues and fluids. A variety of chemical additives in plastic…have known human health effects.
There is a real concern that some of the chemicals in plastic packaging can cause endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancer, birth defects, immune system issues, and developmental problems in children.
Examples of the types of plastic that can contaminate food include Styrene from polystyrene, plasticizers from PVC, antioxidants from polyethylene, and Acetaldehyde from PET. From single-use water-bottles to the linings in aluminium cans to plastic containers that are used for food-delivery, most of our food containers are made using polycarbonate plastics, some of which have bioactive chemicals, like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.
Are there steps being taken in India?
There has been some precautionary progress like the introduction of BPA labels and the increase in the thickness of plastic containers in order to avoid chemical leaching. But the assurance doesn’t hold good under extreme circumstances such as damage, microwaving, pouring hot food into it, and so on. Years of studies proving the ill-effect of plastic should have pushed us to completely ban it and use natural alternatives.
National Green Tribunal in Delhi NCR introduced a ban on disposable plastic like cutlery, bags, and other plastic items amid concern over India’s growing waste. The ban came into effect on January 1, 2020, but, there hasn’t been enough effort by the government. We can still see water being sold in plastic bottles and restaurants delivering food in single-use plastic containers. Since plastic is cheaper and durable, companies don’t budge from using it and in the lack of alternate solutions, the government isn’t fulfilling its plastic-ban promise.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no solution.
So what can we do?
In the absence of stronger regulations, there are things you can do to limit your exposure to chemicals in food:
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables when possible: In order to avoid plasticized storage containers with chemicals that can leach into your food, try to buy fresh stuff.
- Don’t microwave food or drinks in plastic: Since heating up the food containers increases the release of chemicals into food, avoid popping in the plastic containers into the microwave (including infant formula and pumped human milk).
- Opt for restaurants that are trying to make a switch: Whenever you come across a restaurant making efforts to serve its customers in plastic-free packaging, make a note of it, tell your friends, and support their attempt.
- Collaborate with plastic-free packaging businesses: If you are a restaurant or food caterer conscious of the way you serve your customer, that are paving the way for safer food-delivery.
- Spread awareness: In case you understand the implications of prolonged plastic exposure, get the word out to people whom you know can benefit from it.
The solution lies in improving and promoting packaging that is of food-grade material. As the end-consumer, it is our preferences that can create demand for plastic-free packaging and ultimately make it mainstream and a boon to our gut-health.