How the Process of Making Plastic is as Harmful as Plastic Waste

The surprising effects it has on our health and environment

Nowadays we constantly hear about how bad plastic is for the environment and the ways we can reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and our oceans. You've probably seen photos of plastic trash on beaches or plastic hurting wildlife, but waste isn't the only problem with plastic. The materials for plastic have to be drilled out of the ground, cleaned and processed, and melted into different products, all of which have their own harmful environmental and health effects (hello climate change!). That's why we took a deep-dive into the plastic-making process to help you better understand it's negative impacts on us and the planet. Keep reading if you want to be extra motivated to limit plastics in your life!

What is Plastic?

Plastic is a group of materials that are made out of organic and synthetic materials and are classified as polymers, a group of different combined atoms (2). Think of it like making a chain of paper clips to make a necklace or a paper clip garland! In order to make these polymers, raw materials are used such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt, and most commonly crude oil (3). And the reason plastic is so highly used is because it has the ability to be molded or shaped into virtually any form when heat or pressure is added, which is where the word plasticity comes from. Some other properties of plastic are low electrical conductivity, transparency, and toughness (4). And if plastic alone is not good enough for a specific product or purpose, the properties can be modified with different fillers, colors, foaming agents, and other modifiers creating really unique plastic products (3). Common additives are flame retardants which reduce flammability, phthalates which make plastic more pliable, and heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, which are stabilizers and add pigments. All of these additives have some level of health concern and when added to plastics increases the products toxicity (5). Other chemicals, like BPA, are used to manufacture certain types of plastics and the residual amounts of these chemicals later leach from the plastics during use. These additives and other chemicals are a big reason why there is such a push for individuals to reduce their plastic use because it could be directly affecting their health (5).

The Life-cycle of Plastic

A better understanding of how plastic is actually made is key to understanding why it's so problematic. Each step in the plastic making process has its own environmental and health impacts.

1. Extraction and Transportation

The first step to creating plastic is to extract the raw materials, which are most commonly crude oil and natural gas. Crude oil is found deep in underground reservoirs where large drills are used to extract it and this extraction can be done on land or at offshore drilling sites (6). Natural gas is also found in underground deposits, however, the extraction process is slightly different and uses a process called hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is when high pressure streams of water, chemicals, and sand are shot through rock breaking it open and releasing pockets of natural gas that are then captured (12). Once the oil and natural gas is extracted it needs to be transported to facilities where it can be further refined and processed into different materials. For the transportation, pipelines, ships, and trucks are used which all have high risks for leaks and spills that could cause further environmental damage and health concerns. And often the drilling sites and the refining facilities are in different countries which increases the amount of travel and therefore the emissions produced during transportation (7).

In this phase of making plastic there are a lot of potential health issues including cancer, liver damage, autoimmune disorders, allergies, respiratory issues, and reproductive and developmental issues (8,9,14). These issues come from the emissions of the machinery used to extract and transport the raw materials as well as the chemicals used to extract the oil and natural gas. Chemicals like benzene, other dangerous VOC's, and another 170+ toxic chemicals used in fracking can be emitted into the air or local waterways making risk of exposure extremely high (14). And along with health issues, there are a myriad of environmental issues including water contamination, poor air quality, oil spills, micro earthquakes, habitat destruction, and massive amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere (8,9,12,14). Some estimates show that 9.5-10.5 megatons of carbon dioxide per year is emitted due to the extraction and transportation of natural gas in the US for plastic production (7). That is a lot of carbon dioxide and subsequent climate change impacts for just one phase of plastics life-cycle!

2. Refining

After the crude oil and natural gas is transported to a refining facility, they need to be processed and rid of impurities like sand, sulfur, and other materials that might have been released during extraction (6). For crude oil this is done by heating the oil to a high temperature and then sending it to a distillation tower. In this tower the heavy oil is separated into lighter components called fractions (10). Some of these fractions include gasoline, kerosene, gas oil, heavy gas oil, and naphtha which is a crucial component to making large amounts of plastic (7). For natural gas a similar process is done, however, instead of immediately going into a distillation tower the gas is cooled in a Natural Gas Liquid Separator where products like ethane, propane, NGL, and natural gasoline are separated out (7,13). Next the naphtha and the natural gas products are further broken down into lighter components so they are easier to use. This method is called "cracking" and it can be done by using high heat and pressure which is known as steam cracking or by using catalysts to change the composition of the material known as catalyst cracking (10,11). The cracking process yields lighter monomers that are the building blocks of plastic and the most common ones are ethylene, propylene, butylene, benzene, toluene, and xylene (10).

To be able to transform the raw materials into the building blocks of plastic takes a tremendous amount of energy that most often comes from the burning of fossil fuels. At this point in the plastics life cycle, steam cracking accounts for most of the emissions made because it requires so much energy to heat up the materials as well as put them under extreme pressure. Along with the emissions from the amount of fossil fuels burned for energy, there are a lot of other carcinogens and highly toxic substances released into the air during refining and manufacturing. Workers in these plants, and people living in local and downstream communities are at higher risk of negative health impacts. Some of the documented effects of being exposed to such chemicals are impairment of the nervous system, reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, leukemia, and genetic impacts like low birth weight (7,14). The majority of US ethane cracker plants are located near communities that are low-income and communities of color, further contributing to environmental injustice.

3. Production and Consumer Use

Once the monomers are created from the refining and distillation process, they need to be converted into polymers. This process is known as polymerization and it is where the monomers are chemically linked together, which then creates a thick substance called resin. If we took the gaseous monomer ethylene and subjected it to heat, pressure, and a certain catalyst the monomers would join together creating the resin polyethylene, the most common form of plastic (10). Once the polymers are created they are sent through an extruder to create long tubes where they are then cut into small plastic pellets for easy transport to production facilities. These facilities will melt the pellets and mix in additives of their choice to create the desired product for consumer use (10).

During consumer use is when most of us are likely to come into contact with a lot of the additives put in plastic like BPA, phthalates, and flame retardants and so many more that can increase our risk for health issues. We can be exposed through skin to skin contact, ingestion of substances stored in plastic, or even by accidentally consuming plastic, and by breathing in fumes that might come from plastic products or the burning of plastic. Being exposed to these toxic chemicals is associated with renal, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems problems, as well as cancers, diabetes, and developmental toxicity (5,14).

4. Waste

Many studies have shown that the impact of plastic doesn't stop after it has been thrown away. Once thrown away, a piece of plastic can travel through many different paths. One path is recycling which involves collection, transportation, processing, and remanufacturing, which often costs much more than just using virgin materials. Because it is so inefficient and costly to recycle materials, only 9% of all plastic made since 1950 has actually been recycled. Other pathways include incineration which accounts for 12% of the total plastic waste, and then the rest of the plastic has been buried, littered on land, illegally burned, or dumped into the ocean (7).

One of the biggest issues with plastic waste is microplastics. On average about 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year and eventually it breaks down into microplastics which makes it very difficult to remove (1). Marine species are heavily impacted by microplastics because often they mistake the small piece of plastic for food and while the plastic sits in their body it leaches out chemicals harming their bodily functions. And along with marine animals, humans are also heavily affected by microplastics. Not only do we eat some marine animals that are contaminated but microplastics have been found in sediment, soil, and air. Microplastics have even made their way into our food and drinks, such as beer, tap water, and sea salt (5,15). Although research is still ongoing, some potential health effects that may be linked to concentrations of ingested microplastics are metabolic disruption, immune dysfunction, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer (16-18).

With all the benefits of plastic, there comes a dozen issues that need to be addressed. Plastic production isn't going to stop overnight but there are ways we can reduce our exposure and try to slow down plastic production in the future!

How to Limit Plastics in Your Life

By far the type of plastic that contributes the most to the waste-stream is packaging! Plastic packaging accounts for 40% of all plastic being produced and is highly problematic. Most plastic packaging is made for a single use and because of its thin and flexible nature it is extremely difficult to recycle. Because of this 40% of packaging is directly put in a landfill while 14% is incinerated, 14% is collected for recycling (however, only 2% actually gets recycled), and finally 32% follows other pathways like open dumping, open burning, or littered on land or in bodies of water (7). If there is anywhere in your life that you should try and cut down on plastic, it's here! Check out a few ways you can use less single use plastic!

  1. Try not to buy foods or other products that are individually wrapped within a larger piece of packaging. An example of this would be small pieces of candy that are individually wrapped within a larger plastic bag or snack packages of crackers or cookies that come in a larger plastic bag.
  2. If you can buy things in bulk bins that are usually wrapped in plastic, opt for the bulk option. Usually you will save money and not have to throw away a piece of plastic!
  3. If available, buy the option packaged in cardboard or glass, instead of plastic.
  4. Clean and reuse old food jars or invest in glass food storage so you don't have to buy plastic tupperware, which is less durable. Your food is less likely to come into contact with any harmful plastic chemical additives this way.
  5. Look for biodegradable or compostable packaging. Many companies are using more sustainable packaging. This is a great way to support companies who are making good choices for the environment.
  6. Look for retailers who provide reusable options or bring your own. Plastic bags, disposable utensils, water bottles, take out containers, coffee cups, and more are all great places to start.

Plastic is a highly damaging and toxic material at every stage of its life. Not only is it being littered and thrown into our oceans, but it's adding harmful chemicals and tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere everyday. If we want to protect our health and the longevity of our environment we need to reduce the amount of plastic being used and ultimately how much of it is being produced. If you can do your part to slow down the damages made from plastic we urge you to start now!


  5. Toxic Additives in Plastics: Hidden Hazards Linked to Common Plastic Products | | SCP/RAC - Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2021, from
  8. Cordes, E. E., Jones, D. O. B., Schlacher, T. A., Amon, D. J., Bernardino, A. F., Brooke, S., Carney, R., DeLeo, D. M., Dunlop, K. M., Escobar-Briones, E. G., Gates, A. R., Génio, L., Gobin, J., Henry, L.-A., Herrera, S., Hoyt, S., Joye, M., Kark, S., Mestre, N. C., … Witte, U. (2016). Environmental Impacts of the Deep-Water Oil and Gas Industry: A Review to Guide Management Strategies. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 4.
  9. Johnston, J. E., Lim, E., & Roh, H. (2019). Impact of upstream oil extraction and environmental public health: A review of the evidence. The Science of the Total Environment, 657, 187–199.
  15. Campanale, C., Massarelli, C., Savino, I., Locaputo, V., & Uricchio, V. F. (2020). A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(4).

Healthier Food Storage Containers

Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

Updated for 2022!

We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safer and healthier ways to keep your leftovers and meal prep ingredients fresh. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out too!

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Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.

Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.

1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times

Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).

2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference

Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.

3. Life jackets are way better than floaties

Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)

4. Teach children swimming and water safety

Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).

5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability

Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).

Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives

We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).

With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!












Plastic-Free (and Melamine-Free!) Outdoor Tableware

They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings

Updated for Summer 2022!

Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!

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4 Recipes for Batch Summer Drinks that You Can Spike AND that are Kid-Friendly

Ditch single use plastic and canned drinks at your next party

Summer is basically one big outdoor party. Anyone else wishing it will never end? With all of the heat, it's important to have icy beverages that everyone can enjoy. While it's easy to just load up with flats of canned cocktails or plastic bottles of flavored sparkling water, making a big batch of easy, tasty drinks is more budget friendly and planet friendly! Here are 4 of our favorite drink recipes meant for big containers, so you can quickly prepare them in advance and just set up a glass beverage dispenser as people start to arrive. Kids will love these fruity drinks and so will adults, especially if you add a splash of alcohol into your cup (we won't tell!). Plus you'll be skipping out on single use plastic bottles and BPA-lined aluminum cans. Try out one of these recipes at your next summer BBQ or event!

Spiked Lemonade

-1 gallon of water

-3 cups lemon juice

-3.5 cups white sugar

-Fruit like peach, blueberries, blackberries, mint, etc

-4 cups vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding vodka after pouring


  1. Stir the sugar into the water until it's completely dissolved.
  2. Mix in the lemon juice, fruit, and optional vodka. Serve over ice.

Fruit Punch

-8 cups ginger ale

-4 cups orange juice

-4 cups pineapple juice

-sliced fruit like orange

-Optional: 2 cups rum


  1. Combine all ingredients and serve over ice

Watermelon Refresher

-8 cups seedless watermelon, cubed

-2 cups water

-2 cups ginger ale

-2 cups lime juice

-4 cups gin or vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring


  1. Blend watermelon in a blender until pulverized. If you want a completely smooth consistency without pulp, strain the blended watermelon through a sieve.
  2. Combine all ingredients, including pulverized watermelon, and serve over ice.

Hibiscus Watermelon Cooler

8 cups water

8 hibiscus tea bags

8 cups watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender)

½ cup honey

1 cup lime juice

4 cups tequila or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring


  1. Add the teabags to the water and let steep for 5-10 minutes
  2. Remove the teabags and add the rest of the ingredients
  3. Serve over ice

As much as we'd like to be the type of person who wakes up early, grabs some buckets and a sponge at home, and spends a few hours giving their car a DIY wash, we often find ourselves pulling into a car wash business instead. It's easy to feel guilty about taking the "convenient" route but in this case you don't have to! It's actually better for the environment to get a professional car wash rather than DIY! We break down the benefits of an automatic car wash below.

Whether you have a brand new car or your car has been with you for a decade and a few hundred thousand miles, chances are you want to take care of it. In addition to regular oil changes and tune ups, you need to give it a good cleaning. Washing your car isn't just for looks. Over time your car accumulates dirt, oil, salt, and other grime. As well as being an eyesore, this debris can damage the performance of your car. Since we want to drive our car for as long as possible, washing it should be part of your normal car maintenance routine! But before you run to grab your hose and bucket- you might want to consider heading to your local car wash.

It's common to think that going to the car wash is worse for the environment and too water intensive, when actually, the opposite is true. Car wash businesses use high powered nozzles to use as little water as efficiently as possible, and many businesses also have a system in place to catch and reuse old water (1). When you wash your car yourself, you probably just use a bucket filled with water and a hose. While your water usage may not seem that bad while you're washing, it adds up fast. Individuals can use between 80 to 140 gallons of water to wash their car, but a car wash business only uses about 30 to 45 gallons of water (2)! Many car washes also recycle the water used, so the water can be used many times. Some states even require car washes to use recycled water; in California, car washes must use at least 60% recycled water (4). During one particularly tough drought season, a city in California went so far as to ban using potable water for at-home car washes and required car owners to go to a car wash to clean their car (5). If you are concerned about wasting water, ask your local car wash if they recycle water and try to go to one that does!

Another reason to consider using a professional car wash business is wastewater. When we wash our cars at home, we're usually in a concrete driveway or on the side of the road and let the water run down to the sidewalk drains. But that water contains dirt, oil, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals that accumulate during normal driving, and those sidewalk drains don't go to a water treatment plant. Instead, that runoff is usually diverted directly into our watershed, which might to a lake, stream, or ocean and negatively impact aquatic wildlife and water quality (3). Professional car wash businesses are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture all wastewater and divert it into a sewage system. That means the water is safely processed through a water treatment facility and can be used for future car washes!

If you really want to wash your car at home, there are more eco-friendly options.

1. Look for cleaners that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, to minimize the potential for water contamination (3).

2. Make sure to dispose of any dirty water leftover in the buckets by dumping it down your sink, toilet, or bathtub instead of pouring it down your driveway.

3. Washing your car on an overcast, mild day can help save water, since it won't evaporate as quickly.

4. Use reusable cloths to wash and dry your car.



Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.

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Tasty, Vegetarian-Friendly Summer Grill Recipes

Trying to eat less meat but don't want to give up your grilling habit? We've got you

School's out for the summer and we're officially swapping out backpacks for shades, sunscreen and the good ole' grill. Yep, you heard us right, we're firing up the grill and believe it or not, no meat is involved. Trying your hand at incorporating more vegetables isn't just good for you, it's great for the environment too. In a nutshell, it takes a TON of energy and water to produce the steaks and pork ribs traditionally grilled (1). The extra carbon dioxide pumped into the air from raising livestock then contributes to increasing Earth's temperatures (2). So, if you're on board to beat the heat, keep on reading for some awesome recipes and ideas to try out this summer.

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