Science

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!



References

  1. https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution?utm_source=newsletter#plastic-waste-per-person
  2. https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/How-Plastics-Are-Made/
  3. https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/about-plastics/what-are-plastics
  4. https://www.britannica.com/science/plastic
  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 http://www.cprac.org/en/news-archive/general/toxic-additives-in-plastics-hidden-hazards-linked-to-common-plastic-products
  6. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/petroleum/
  7. https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Plastic-and-Climate-FINAL-2019.pdf
  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. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2016.00058
  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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.11.483
  10. https://www.bpf.co.uk/plastipedia/how-is-plastic-made.aspx
  11. https://www.britannica.com/technology/cracking-chemical-process
  12. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/natural-gas/
  13. http://naturalgas.org/naturalgas/processing-ng/
  14. https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Plastic-and-Health-The-Hidden-Costs-of-a-Plastic-Planet-EXECUTIVE-SUMMARY-February-2019.pdf
  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). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041212
  16. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719344468
  17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0043135417310515
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0269749117307686
Roundups

Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly Backpacks

The most sustainable backpacks for toddlers, preschoolers, grade schoolers, teens, and adults!

Updated for Fall 2021!

As soon as August rolls around, all we can think of backpacks! A new backpack is often the most exciting thing on the back to school shopping list, especially if the one from last year is torn to shreds or not big enough anymore. Many backpacks are made from harmful plastics like PVC, which contains phthalates, and many times they are treated with a PFAS (Teflon-like) finish. This is why we searched high and low for backpacks that are not only cute and functional, but are also good for the environment. Our backpack recommendations are all phthalate, PVC, and lead free. We also looked for backpacks that are made from recycled water bottles, GOTS certified organic cotton, or that feature a PFAS-free water repellent. We found backs in sizes that will work for toddler, kids, teenagers and adults. Many of these backpacks have different sizing options and all of them come in assorted colors and prints so there really is a backpack for everyone!

We list the dimensions or size in liters of each backpack below. As a reference, toddlers usually need a backpack of about 6 liters, preschoolers from 6-12 liters, elementary school kids from 12-18 liters, and teenagers/adults from 18 liters and above.

a) Apple Park Backpack- Toddler 10.75" x 12" x 5.5", Big Kid 14.5" x 12" x 7"

These cute backpacks are made from 100% recycled materials. Each animal backpack saves 27 plastic bottles from landfills. Also comes in an owl and fox styles, and big kid and toddler sizes.

b) Deuter Kikki Kid's Backpack- 8 liters

This is a really fun little kid backpack. It comes in three different colors and has a chest strap to help your little one carry their load. This backpack is PFAS free and manufactured according to the Blusign (R) standard, which ensures environmental health and safety in the manufacturing of textiles.

c) So Young Toddler Backpack (9.5"L X 5"W X 13"H) and Grade School Backpack (11"L X 5.5"W x 15.5"H)

So Young backpacks come in toddler and grade school sizes and all sorts of unique modern prints. They are constructed of linen and cotton and are free from harmful chemicals.

d) Terra Thread Organic Backpack (16"H x 12"W x 5"D) and Mini Backpack (13"H x 10.5"W x 4"D)

Terra Thread backpacks are made with a durable, thick GOTS certified organic cotton canvas. They are also carbon neutral, because the company purchases carbon offsets. Plus the backpacks are made in a Fair Trade certified factory and the company is a Certified B Corporation! Terra Thread backpacks comes in a mini and a standard size, so it works for kids (and adults!) of all sizes.

e) Fjallraven Re-Kanken (16L) and Re-Kanken Mini (7L)

A special edition of the trendy Kanken backpack from Fjallraven that is made entirely from polyester recycled from plastic bottles. The dye technology also reduces the amount of water, energy, and chemicals used. It comes in a mini and standard size in lots of bright color choices, so there is something for everyone. Fjallraven takes sustainability seriously and has an impressive Code of Conduct. They were also one of the first adopters of going PFAS free.

f) North Face Youth Recon Squash Backpack (17L) and the North Face Sprout Backpack (10L)

North Face has two excellent and well built kids backpacks that are made from 50% recycled polyester. The fabric is water repellent with a non-PFAS durable water repellent. With all the right pockets and comfortable supportive straps, including a chest clip, this backpack will last for many years.

g) LEGO Brick Backpack (18 L)

The perfect backpack for the Lego obsessed. There are two zippered front pockets, and the adjustable shoulder straps and sternum strap all help to make this backpack comfortable. It's also exciting that the fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles, which reduces energy use, water use, and air pollution

h) State Kane Kids Recycled Poly Canvas Backpack Original (14.95" H x 11.22" W x 4.72" D), Mini (12.60" H x 9.45" W x 3.54" D) and Large (17" H x 13" W x 7.5" D)

This backpack is thoughtfully designed and made from 90% recycled polyester. The main compartment has organizational zip pockets and the outside has two side water bottle pockets. The recycled fabric version also comes in several other prints and a mini version for the younger kids! There's even a large size for teenagers. State bags also gives to families in need for every backpack that is purchased.

i) Everlane Renew Backpack (18L or 27L)

This backpack is made from 100% recycled polyester and features a PFAS free water resistant finish. The dyes are also Bluesign (R) approved, which are safer for workers and for the environment. These backpacks feature a zippered laptop pocket and other slip and zippered pockets for organization. It's a comfy and classy backpack that is perfect for class, work, or travel.

j) Fluf B Pack (22L)

These Fluf backpacks are made from GOTS certified organic cotton with 100% recycled polyester felt padding. There is a sleeve for a laptop and a zipper front pouch. For every backpack sold, Fluf donates to support sending a girl to school in a developing country through Plan International.

k) Vera Bradley Reactive Grand Backpack (25 L)

A favorite brand of tweens and teenagers, Vera Bradley now makes backpacks from recycled plastic bottles. This backpack comes in a couple of trendy prints and colors and can hold all the school books kids will need.

l) Jansport Recycled SuperBreak Backpack (26 L)

A classic backpack, but now made with 100% recycled materials. Each backpack is made from the equivalent of 20 plastic bottles! This is a quality lightweight backpack that is great for school and more.


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Roundups

Non-Toxic School Lunch Packing Essentials

Get ready for school with these eco-friendly options

Packing lunches for school is a lot of work! We know from firsthand experience how hard it can be to pack something nutritious that your kids will actually eat. Plus if you're trying to reduce the amount of food packaging or plastic waste in your kid's lunch, it can just seem overwhelming. To make things easier, we rounded up our favorite non-toxic school lunch packing essentials. We included stainless steel lunchboxes, a hot food container, snack containers and bags, reusable food wrap, and a couple of cute and functional lunch bags. All of these items are free of lead, phthalates (commonly found in vinyl), BPA, and PFAS (Teflon-like chemicals). Check out these lunch packing essentials and get inspired to pack the best lunches ever.



a) Lunchbots Large Stainless Steel Lunch Container

Lunchbots is a great stainless steel bento container that will last for years. This one has 5 compartments for every type of lunch and snack combo you can come up with. You can get dip condiment containers that are leak proof that neatly fit inside. Lunchbots also has smaller containers for snacks that you should check out as well.

b) Planetbox Lunchbox

This stainless steel lunch box is easy for kids to open with a simple latch. The lunchbox comes with containers for wet foods and dips and you can buy extra dividers. The different compartments make it easy to pack a variety of foods. We love how it comes with magnets on the cover so that kids can customize the look. Planetbox also has an insulated carry bag, just make sure to pick one of the patterns that is made without a PFAS durable water repellent. Planetbox also has a smaller sized box for snacks or for little ones.

c) Bentgo Kids Stainless Steel

Bentgo is a favorite bento container that now comes in stainless steel! The silicone lining on the lid makes it leak resistant as and the latches make the container easy to open. It comes with 3 compartments and an extra silicone container.

d) Thermos Stainless Steel Insulated Food Jar

This container keeps food hot for 5 hours and is perfect for days when soup or mac n cheese are on the menu. The handle make it convenient to carry and helps kids open the top.

e) Stasher bags

Stasher bags are so popular for a reason! Say goodbye to single use plastic bags and say hello to a reusable food packing essential that comes in lots of fun colors. We particularly love the sandwich and snack sizes and use them daily.

f) Zip Top Snack Containers

These Zip Top container are as convenient to use as they are cute! We love how they sit flat and are easy to open for small hands. They are perfect for some sliced fruit or any loose snack.

g) Ukonserve Round Nesting Trio Stainless Steel Containers

These snack containers come with see through lids so that kids know what's inside. The are great for snacks, or use all three to pack a bento style lunch. They also nest for easy storage.

h) If you care Sandwich Bags

Sometimes you need a disposable sandwich or snack bag. No judgement! These If You Care unbleached sandwich bags are made of greaseproof, nonstick paper which is biodegradable, compostable, and microwave safe. Perfect for a cookie, sandwich, or other dry snack.

i) Bee's Wrap Reusable Food Wrap

Replace plastic wrap with this sustainable alternative. Bee's Wrap is made from GOTS Certified organic cotton, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. We love wrapping up snacks, sandwiches, and cut up fruits and veggies in these.

j) Fluf Lunch Bag

This organic cotton canvas lunch bag is fully machine washable! The interior is lined with a food safe water resistant lining (free of PFAS, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals) and has a pocket for a ice pack. The bag comes in so many cute prints and has a very durable canvas handle.

k) Fjallraven Kanken Mini Cooler

This well insulated lunch bag is made of durable, waxed fabric that is PFAS free! Bonus that the the fabric is made from recycled plastic. It comes in lots of cute colors and is sure to be a favorite for kids of all ages.

l) Petit Collage

A roomy insulated lunch box that is easy to wipe clean thanks to a biodegradable laminate made from sugar cane. It comes in several cute patterns and comes with a handle or a strap.

m) Ukonserve insulated lunch bag

This lunch bag is made from recycled plastic bottles and is free of PFAS, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals. It holds ups well to daily use and is roomy enough to pack a lunch plus snacks.

Roundups

Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

Tough on germs, without unnecessary yucky chemicals

Updated for Fall 2021!

Between COVID-19, flu season, or changing a poopy diaper on the go, hand sanitizer can be a life saver. But a lot of commercial hand sanitizers can contain fragrances and some pretty gross chemicals. To make sure you're getting the best possible product, we reviewed a ton of options and made sure they're easy to find at stores. There are options for gels, sprays, and wipes and lots of yummy smells like lavender or coconut and lemon, or just simply fragrance free if you want something simple. Try out several and stash them in places where you might need them, like the car, a favorite purse, backpack, or laptop bag. All of our non-toxic hand sanitizer recommendations are safer for you but super tough on germs!

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Food

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

Instructions

  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

Instructions

  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

Instructions

  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

Instructions

  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
Food

Summer BBQ Essentials

Don't break out the grill without these non-toxic finds!

Summer isn't complete without at least one BBQ! They're the ultimate excuse to get together with friends, enjoy the nice weather, and cook delicious food (even if you're doing meat-free Monday). If you're new to the BBQ scene, then you might not realize that an outdoor get-together can require some specialized gear. Standard BBQ gear can be made from harmful materials like melamine, plastic, and PFAS, which is why we wanted to find alternative products that were safer for our health. Our summer BBQ essentials roundup has everything you need and more to throw the best party ever! And don't forget to check out our tips for a non-toxic BBQ!


Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold

Stainless Steel Grill Basket

Glass Beverage Dispenser

Cast Iron Griddle Pan

Carbon Steel Grill Frying Pan

Moscow Mule Mugs

Enamelware with seafood pattern

Grill tools

Stainless steel Citrus Press Juicer

Food

Canned Coffee is Convenient, But What About BPA?

Why they should be a treat instead of part of your daily routine

Now that we're all working from home, it's easy to get bored of our everyday homemade coffee routine. Sometimes we just want something different to wake us up in the morning or even a quick pick me up in the afternoon! That's where canned coffee comes into play. It's quick, convenient, and comes in a ton of flavors. But that convenience might come at a cost; there's been concerns surrounding the use of BPA in the lining of canned products. So, does canned coffee pose a risk to health? We looked at the research to find out.

The Problem With BPA in Cans

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a synthetic chemical that acts like estrogen in our bodies and it has been known to screw with important hormones like testosterone and thyroid hormones. Some of the common health problems associated with BPA include breast cancer, reduced sperm production, obesity, reproductive issues, disruption of brain development and function, and damaging effects to the liver (1). To make matters worse, there is more and more scientific evidence that even very low doses of BPA exposure can be harmful, especially for pregnant women and babies. Low doses of BPA exposure have been tied to abnormal liver function, chronic inflammation of the prostate, cysts on the thyroid and pituitary gland, and many more serious health effects during the early stages of life (5).

Even though BPA is definitely not a chemical we want to be exposed to, it's found basically everywhere, including our food. One common place to find BPA is the internal lining of canned foods or beverages. BPA can help prevent corrosion between the metal and the food or drink inside a can, but over time (or if stored under the wrong conditions like high temperatures), it can start to leach out and get into the food or drink (2). Even cans that say BPA free can have nasty BPA alternatives that have been shown to have similar hormone disrupting effects (7).

Studies have shown that canned soft drinks, beers, and energy drinks all had small traces of BPA in them. Beer was found with the highest concentration of BPA, followed by energy drinks. Soft drinks were found to have the lowest concentration of BPA. In order to find out where BPA in these drinks was coming from, researchers compared the canned drinks to the same drinks packaged in glass bottles. They found very little to no traces of BPA in the glass bottled drinks, which means that the source of BPA in the canned drinks was definitely coming from the cans themselves (2,3,4).

Even if there are only small traces of leachable BPA, it can still be harmful if we are consuming canned products on a regular basis.

Is Canned Coffee Safe?

With the recent increase in popularity of cold brew and other canned coffee drinks, there have not been extensive studies on BPA levels in canned coffee. However, one study of canned coffee drinks in Asia, where they have been popular for longer, did find that BPA was leaching into the coffee from the can. Interestingly, they also found that the more caffeine was in the coffee, the more BPA leached from the can into the drink. Meaning the more caffeine, the more BPA! (4,6) Now before you think you can get away with only drinking decaf canned coffee, keep in mind that caffeine only increases the leaching from the can, but it can still happen without it (6).

Even though the levels of BPA found in canned coffee were relatively small, because BPA is all around us in so many common products, we should try to limit our exposure as much as we can. This means that it's probably okay to drink a canned coffee every once in a while, but best practice is to not drink them every day. But if you're in the middle of a road trip and are desperate for some energy, don't get too stressed about grabbing a canned coffee!

Canned Coffee Alternatives

If you're starting to get worried about what coffee to buy when you're out and about or when you want something more than just plain coffee, don't stress! We thought of some easy and fun alternatives for your canned coffee fix that might make you forget all about it!

  1. Swap out the canned coffee for coffee in a glass bottle or tetrapaks whenever possible.
  2. Find some fun new ways to make coffee at home like using a Chemex or a nice French press!
  3. Go get a coffee at your local coffee shop. Support small businesses if you can!
  4. If you like canned coffee because of the flavors, try making your own caramel or mocha sauce at home. It's pretty easy and it saves money! For something icy and refreshing, we are partial to muddling some fresh mint with some cold brew.


References

vom Saal, F. S., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2021). Update on the Health Effects of Bisphenol A: Overwhelming Evidence of Harm. Endocrinology, 162(bqaa171). https://doi.org/10.1210/endocr/bqaa171 (1)

Cao, X.-L., Corriveau, J., & Popovic, S. (2010). Sources of Low Concentrations of Bisphenol A in Canned Beverage Products. Journal of Food Protection, 73(8), 1548–1551. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-73.8.1548 (2)

Determination of BPA, BPB, BPF, BADGE and BFDGE in canned energy drinks by molecularly imprinted polymer cleaning up and UPLC with fluorescence detection. (2017). Food Chemistry, 220, 406–412. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.10.005 (3)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (4)

Prins, G. S., Patisaul, H. B., Belcher, S. M., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2019). CLARITY-BPA academic laboratory studies identify consistent low-dose Bisphenol A effects on multiple organ systems. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 125(S3), 14–31. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.13125 (5)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (6)

Pelch, K., Wignall, J. A., Goldstone, A. E., Ross, P. K., Blain, R. B., Shapiro, A. J., Holmgren, S. D., Hsieh, J.-H., Svoboda, D., Auerbach, S. S., Parham, F. M., Masten, S. A., Walker, V., Rooney, A., & Thayer, K. A. (2019). A scoping review of the health and toxicological activity of bisphenol A (BPA) structural analogues and functional alternatives. Toxicology, 424, 152235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tox.2019.06.006 (7)

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