Toxicity is one of the most talked about topics these days. So much of research has gone into materials that cause health hazards in our daily living. Unfortunately, most of the stuff around us seem to be associated with health issues like cancer or neuromuscular disorders. Plastic tops the list followed by styrofoam, cans, aluminium foil, household cleaners, personal health care products, cosmetics and the list is never-ending.
It gives nightmares when you read about the effects of the chemicals and heavy metals in these products. You cannot ignore those reports, at the same time we have got so used to them that it is not an exaggeration if I say they are an integral part of our modern, convenient lifestyle.
I am trying hard to totally eliminate plastics from my house but it seems practically impossible. From milk to oil cans, everything seems to be plastic. My attempts towards a trade-off between convenience and my family’s health did not succeed 100%, but at least I’m trying my best. I get some kind of satisfaction that in my attempts to protect my family, I’m contributing my bit to save the earth as well.
Let’s start with the most infamous one:
Plastic takes about 450 years to decompose. (Source: US National Park Service). Say a definite NO to plastic bags while shopping. Always carry your own biodegradable bag. Once you do that, you will be amazed at the number of plastic bags you can avoid. I tried actually counting a couple of times during grocery shopping, it came up to 8. That was per shopping trip for a family of 4. And on an average, I shop twice a week. So you can do your math to find out how many plastic bags each one of us can save every year. Of all the plastic stuff, the bags are the most convenient but also easiest to avoid, in my experience.
Most kids’ water bottles and lunch boxes in the market are conveniently plastic. Even those that claim to be “BPA-free” are unsafe. When I looked for other alternatives, I could find some metal ones and thermo ware, which have a stainless steel lining inside though it is plastic on the outside. The only problem is that they are a bit heavy.
Replace your plastic chopping board with the wooden one unless you want to scrape off a bit of plastic every day into your food.
Remove food, as soon as possible, from those microwave- reheatable plastic boxes when u buy takeaways from restaurants. And throw them away, never reuse them. I use glass or ceramic to heat in the microwave.
Bottled mineral water is also considered unsafe since chemicals like BPA and BPS from the plastic bottle can leach into the water. After some probing and research, I settled for a 3-stage filter. The first stage filters sediments and visible dirt, the second one removes heavy metals like lead, and the third is nanofiltration to remove bacteria. There is also a remarkable difference in how the water tastes. If you have no choice but to use the bottled water, try not to expose it to heat or sunlight and never ever reuse the bottle.
While buying disposable plates and cups, opt for the ones made of biodegradable materials.
Unfortunately, most blender jars are plastic. Next time you buy a blender, look out for one with a glass or stainless steel jar. They are dishwasher-safe, unlike the plastic jars. If you are using a plastic jar, ensure that you don’t blend anything hot in it.
If you can’t get rid of plastics totally, try not to put them in the microwave or dishwasher or anything that exposes plastic to high temperatures.
Styrofoam is as bad as plastic, if not worse. The polystyrene used in manufacturing styrofoam is found to be carcinogenic and neurotoxic. It takes at least 500 years to decompose. There are many products which are packaged in styrofoam, like meat, fish or cut vegetables. The best you can do is to transfer the food as soon as possible to glass or stainless steel containers.
Cans too are lined with BPA (source: USA Today). Needless to say, always prefer fresh food over canned food. It is not so difficult as it sounds, just a little effort and a mindset change will do the trick. If at all you have to use packaged food, it is better to opt for those in glass jars.
Aluminium foil is yet another material that is fast gaining a bad reputation. So why use it when you are in doubt? After all, it can easily be replaced with baking sheet/ parchment paper.
It has been found that the teflon coating on the Non-stick cookware contains hazardous chemicals like PFOA and PTFE, but are you ready to throw away all your non-stick pans after reading this? I couldn’t do it myself. I tried ceramic pans, which work wonderfully for the first few days. Then I had to literally fight with it to part with the food. I had to use more and more oil, which defeats the purpose. Finally, I resorted to our age-old cast iron skillets which work fine. I still use my non-stick pan occasionally, but change it to a new one as soon as I see the first scratch on it. Another important point is that it should never be subjected to high heat.
We often read that the vegetables and fruits these days are laden with pesticides, so what do we do? Stop eating them? I tried the “vegetable wash” from the store, but was not very convinced. If you don’t wash it off properly, you will be ingesting those chemicals which, God knows, may be worse. The solution came in the form of the “Food Files” show on “National Geographic” where they tested a solution of vinegar and water in the ratio 1:3, and proved that it takes away 90% of bacteria and pesticides. Voila! That was exactly what I wanted to know. Since then I’ve been using it to wash veggies and fruits.
Next, I started hunting for relatively safe household cleaners and was able to find some plant-based biodegradable dish detergents and floor cleaners.
The issue of phthalates and aluminium in cosmetics is a highly debated one. Nail polish, deodorant, cleanser, lipstick, hairspray, even some shampoos have been proved to contain chemicals that pose health risks. Researchers say that the amount of exposure is what matters, but how much is too much? So the best is to be discrete in using them. At least young children and pregnant women should steer clear of them.
Using herbal products can be a solution, but it is better to read the label before buying. You never know how herbal is “herbal”. Some manufacturers only use plant extracts to satisfy the minimum requirements to define a product ‘herbal’.
How often do you clean your air conditioner? In addition to keeping the house clean, it is also important to ensure that the air inside is not polluted. It is recommended generally that air conditioners have to be cleaned once in 3-4 months.
It takes time to change something which you have been doing for years but knowing that it might affect your family’s health adversely, it is better to take some action as soon as possible. After all, it is for the family that we are working so hard. Let us do our bit in making the earth a better and safer place to live for our future generations.
Did you try anything eco-friendly that we all ought to know? Please share in the comments column.