Better for the Planet, Our Health, and the Economy
As a long-time plastic and waste reduction advocate, I've had a hard time ordering take-out or delivery. It's not just the waste that bothers me when I see single-use food packaging, it's knowing that things used for a matter of minutes and then thrown away represents all kinds of threats not only to the environment, but also to our health and businesses' bottom line.
Then COVID-19 happened – and caused a dramatic increase in the consumption of single-use plastics from PPEs and food packaging. Since the pandemic began, U.S. online shopping and take-out orders have increased 78% – the highest reported increase in the world. However, oddly enough, the number of reusable and returnable cup and container options has – luckily! – been growing.
This growth in reuse systems is evident in cities across the U.S.. For example, in my hometown of San Francisco, in the last year it became possible for me to order take-out in reusable containers from several of my favorite Bay Area restaurants through Dispatch Goods, either directly from the restaurant or through Doordash. When visiting family in NYC, I can get lovely salads to go from Just Salad – and Deliver Zero is partnering with a number of restaurants in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. And while my family in Durham N.C. are divided by the Tar Heels and Blue Devils rivalry, they all agree that ordering take-out in reusable containers from restaurants that partner with Durham Green to Go is much better than the throw-away option. And thankfully, I can now get a coffee to-go in a reusable mug in many cities, like when I visit my brother in Boston, where Usefull recently launched.
At UPSTREAM, we are tracking the growth of reuse in cities all across the country. It's possible to borrow a reusable cup or container in a variety of on deposit or lending programs. Even groceries and consumer products are being offered in returnable/refillable containers thanks to many emerging reuse companies. The concomitant growth in reusable and refillable return systems gives me hope that the throw away culture is changing.
Why Single-use Packaging is Not Good for the Environment
Since the birth of the throw-away culture in the 1960s, single-use food packaging has largely replaced reusable and refillable packaging in the U.S., and it is rapidly increasing across the globe. Taking another first place, the U.S. is also the biggest generator of packaging waste – 82.2 million metric tons (mt) in 2018- equivalent to 514 billion cars. Efforts to find "sustainable packaging" materials to feed the throw away economy are challenging since each comes with regrettable consequences.
Paper products, like napkins, plates, and food containers are filling overflowing garbage cans. These products come from oxygen-producing, carbon-capturing trees – our first defense in the climate crisis. Cutting them down means habitat loss and increasing species extinction, increasing water pollution, and worse air quality.
Aluminum is quickly becoming the material of choice because it is highly recyclable. But with the average recycled content of a can at 73% a fair amount of virgin material is still being used. The mining and transformation of raw bauxite into aluminum is energy intensive and releases perfluorocarbons that are 9,200 times more harmful than CO2 in global warming impacts.
Plastic is not a great choice, either. It's highly littered and hardly recyclable. One truckload per minute of plastic enters the ocean. Throughout its lifecycle, from the extraction of hydrocarbons through the processing to ultimate disposal, plastics are energy intensive, polluting, health-harming, and contribute to climate change. Roughly two-thirds of all plastic produced has been released to the environment and remains there causing harm. And it turns out that the U.S. is the biggest plastic waste generator and polluter in the world.
For years, communities have struggled to find alternatives to plastic that are better for the environment, but this quest has proven elusive. They are learning the hard way that "recyclable" foodware doesn't really get recycled. We've paid for recycling for years while our dirty paper and plastic got exported to become pollution in other countries – or it gets collected in the recycling bin only to end up in local landfills or incinerators where it pollutes our communities.
Compostable packaging some believe to be the sustainable panacea. But compostables are not really working well in the waste stream. Bioplastic compostable products, like cups and bags, get mixed up with and contaminate recycling. Only products certified to be compostable (bearing 3rd party labeling) are designed to degrade in commercial compost although many people mistake plant-based products with those designed for compost. Commercial composters largely don't want plastics made from plants, even the ones that are certified to meet lab standards for compostability, because they don't degrade quickly enough outside the lab and contaminate the compost. So too does paper and fiberware that is coated with forever-polluting PFAS chemicals. All packaging, even if it degrades in compost, dilutes the quality of the compost because it adds no nutrient value. Composters mostly want food and yard waste. Some accept technically compostable food packaging due to pressure from cities that are looking to divert waste from landfill. But they end up with piles of less valuable, dirty compost.
Reusable packaging: a win for the planet
Life cycle analysis – the footprint of a product through its lifetime, from production to disposal – generally views environmental impacts through as many as 14 categories, like raw materials extraction, manufacturing and transportation impacts, greenhouse gas and climate impacts, water and energy consumption, aquatic toxicity, and disposal related impacts. Through any of these measures, reusable products ultimately out-perform the disposable options.
Based on UPSTREAM's review of the life cycle analysis of reusable versus disposable take-out foodware, reusables are better for the environment after just a minimal number of uses:
- Cups, plates and bowls: after 10-50 uses
- Clamshells: after 15-20 uses
- Utensils: after 2-4 uses
Reuse is Better for our Health – Especially Without Plastic
Many people want to eliminate plastic because of the impacts to our oceans and upsetting scenes of plastics' harm to turtles and whales. But a more personal impact comes from the health threats associated with plastics and chemicals in food packaging. The harm, including lowered fertility rates for men and women, developmental and neurological impairment, and elevated cancers and other chronic diseases, is harder to see and much widely recognized. That's why UPSTREAM is collaborating with Zero Waste Europe and GAIA in the UNWRAPPED project to share a Call to Action about the risks of plastics and chemicals in food packaging:
Non-plastic reusables are not only better for the environment, they are also safer for human health. When made from glass, stainless steel, and ceramic, the main package is inert. The threat of chemicals or microplastics migrating into the food or beverages we consume is far lower with non-plastic reusables.
Reusables Are Also Better for the Economy
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that a 20% shift to reusables presents a $10 billion dollar business savings. On the ground, programs like ReThink Disposable are providing this case. The program had over 160 food service businesses participate, and they found that every single one saved money by switching to some reusables in their operations – on average between $3,000- $22,000 per year.
Switching to reuse for take-out also reduces litter which will in turn save taxpayer dollars. More than $11.5 billion is spent every year in the U.S. to clean up litter on the streets, in storm drains and in rivers, and the most common objects found during beach and street litter clean-ups are food and beverage packaging.
Reuse also creates good local jobs. According to EcoCycle, there are 30 times more job opportunities with reuse than in landfilling and incinerating our waste.
Reduce is Also a Win
At UPSTREAM, we're working to get laws enacted that pave the way both for reducing and reusing. To reduce single-use in food service, we've launched the Skip the Stuff campaign which would require restaurants and online ordering apps to ask first before including the straws, utensils, condiment packets, and napkins that most of us already have at home or at the office.
So when you choose to Skip the Stuff, or you participate in a reusable cup or container program for your next take-out meal or beverage, you can feel good knowing that choosing to reduce and reuse is safer for our health, better for the planet, and saves business money. That's a real win!
How to Become a Reuse Solutioneer
People can spend their entire days and weeks trying to live a plastic-free lifestyle, but most of us don't have that kind of time. The problem is that we don't have a lot of choices in how the things we want to buy and use are packaged. The real solutions come from driving systems change by putting pressure on companies to offer us the products we want without the throw-away packaging.
You can drive change by supporting businesses that are doing things right. Here are some ways to support reuse businesses:
- Call on restaurants to Reopen with Reuse: add your name to the statement asking our beloved restaurants to reopen with nontoxic reuse.
- Find reuse businesses in your area and support them.
- Support restaurants that serve on real plates, cups, and dishes.
- Opt out of unnecessary accessories like disposable silverware and straws when you order take-out - #SkiptheStuff.
You can also take action now to get policies enacted that require packaging to be less toxic and more reusable.
- Email your federal legislators and ask them to pass the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act where plastic packaging producers are required to reduce and reuse packaging.
- Ask lawmakers to take action to protect public health by signing the UNWRAPPED project Call to Action.
- Start a reusable city coalition in your community by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Parashar, N, Hait, S. (2021, Plastics in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Protector or polluter? Sci of the Total Env 759/144274.
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and tips for healthier alternatives
Let's start by acknowledging that take out is a wonderful invention, especially during the pandemic. Getting takeout is one of the only activities that still feels normal, helps support local business, and brings so much joy! While we're not going to give up our Postmates habit any time soon, we do have a few suggestions for ways to make your next lunch or Tuesday night takeout a little healthier, without saying you have to order the steamed veggies.
Our focus is on what the food comes in and not what you are ordering - no judgement here if you get the pizza and cheesy bread (they're different!). We are more concerned about the container your food might be served in. That styrofoam container housing your piping hot pad thai or that molded fiber bowl your fancy grain bowl is served in might pose a hidden health risk.
Well, here's the deal, all that packaging can affect the food, and in turn, your health down the road. And not like heart disease from a greasy indulgence now and again or a bout of food poisoning, but things like infertility, suppressed immune functions, and even neurological disorders. These issues, and others that result from a disrupted endocrine system, are associated with the highly fluorinated chemicals (PFAS) and various types of plastic present in most take out and food packaging materials.
But to be completely frank, figuring out what exactly is in the specific container your favorite restaurant uses isn't all that easy. There are so many different options when it comes to to-go containers that it can be migraine-inducing trying to figure out what is what. So, rather than listing out every possible take out container you might see and saying this one is safe, but this one isn't, we are just going to share some info that's easy to remember and can make a general improvement. Because hey, every little change adds up and makes a difference down the line.
So, here's the deal. We went through this report from Center for Environmental Health and a recent study on grocery takeout containers, and pulled out some of the main facts. We compared those with other info researchers have found, and came up with this list of facts and tips for creating an even better takeout experience.
4 Facts about Take Out Containers
- The "best" options (meaning the ones that contains the fewest chemicals that are likely to leach into your food or the environment after you throw it away) are ones that are compostable and fluorine free. That means those brown paper boxes marked with a green seal saying they are made from 100% recycled paperboard or the white paper soup containers that have a green stripe and similar compostable markings. Another option is plastic-like containers that are actually made of something called bioplastic or PLA (polylactic acid) that are completely compostable. These are often used for things like salads or compostable cold drink cups. Foil containers also seem to be safe because foil is less likely to change due to heat.
- If you can't find compostable, or foil containers, the next best options are plastic containers that are recyclable and marked with the number 2 or the number 5. These are "safer" plastics when it comes to transporting hot food, and they can be easily recycled in most communities.
- Styrofoam is bad. We all instinctively know it. What even is that material? (answer: it's polystyrene, which is a form of plastic). Anyway, if you can avoid it you should. It easily releases chemicals into hot foods and drinks and takes forever to break down in the world once you toss it and is not really recyclable.
- Molded fibers, so things like those brown cardboard-y bowls that look natural like they should be better for you, often aren't. To make the paper water and oil resistant, they often use a highly fluorinated chemical, which isn't something we want a lot extra of in our bodies.
And, if even that sounds like a lot to remember, here are some tips that can help reduce the impact takeout containers have on your life.
The Good News
Thankfully, in recent years retailers have started taking a stance against PFAS in their packaging. Many are committing to phasing PFAS out from the packaging or have stopped using this harmful chemical altogether! Big chain stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have started to take action to stop using packaging with PFAS, as well as fast food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell who have pledged to fully change their packaging by 2025. Chipotle has gone one stop further and totally eliminated this type of packaging. Make sure to support the places that are taking action!
States have also started to propose legislation to ban these harmful chemicals from packaging. New York, Washington, and Maine have already prohibited PFAS in food packaging and many states have provided new legislation that has not been passed yet or will go into effect in the next few years. And that's not all! Maine and dozens of cities in other states have banned the use of styrofoam as food containers.
The good news doesn't stop there! There are a growing number of companies and startups that are trying to solve this issue of wasteful and toxic takeout containers. A couple examples of these companies are Dispatch Goods in San Francisco and Go Box started in Portland. Both of these companies are providing reusable containers to restaurants and then later picking them up from the customer as well as providing drop off sites at different locations throughout the city. There are a lot of new companies working on removing toxic chemicals from our takeout containers and trying to reduce the amount of waste that they create. So while we wait for bills and legislation to be passed, we can rest easier knowing that there are some companies taking action into their own hands.
4 Tips for Healthier Take Out
Phasing out or banning the use of PFAS or styrofoam is a big step in the right direction to lessen our exposure to these toxic chemicals. But until we have a nationwide (or global!) ban on these chemicals from food contact, you might also want to check out these tips for making your take out experience a little healthier.
- Try to notice what your food comes in when your food arrives, then order from places that already use better options. It doesn't have to be every time (maybe you are just really craving that chicken from the place on the corner that only uses styrofoam clamshells - that's okay), but if you are between two, let the packaging factor in.
- Before ordering your food ask the server or hostess what kind of containers the food will come in. If the food comes in a container that you're not happy with, maybe try somewhere else for dinner. And if you are really outgoing or go to the same place regularly, consider talking to them about switching to something better like compostable options.
- If you are feeling passionate about this issue, try getting involved at the local level or find organizations in your area that are working on it or a similar issue. There are a lot of organizations fighting to ban styrofoam or harmful chemicals from food packaging and even to create state composting systems. You could also start your own movement, the sky's the limit!
The inside scoop is pretty sweet!
If you've been looking for some more sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives, chances are, you might have stumbled across this thing called beeswax wrap. It can be used to wrap sandwiches and salad, that half-eaten avocado, even leftovers from wine and cheese night! Maybe the cute patterns first caught your eye, or maybe you saw it on Instagram. Whatever the reason, we're going to share everything you need to know about this reusable alternative to plastic wrap.
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With plenty of time at home in the last 12 months, we've all visited the kitchen more frequently – and gladly. This, of course, means that we're basically certifiable chefs. (And how could we not be after streaming all of the known tele-verse? There's now time and much inspiration to mince fresh garlic into culinary fairy dust.) While you've been chopping away, have you ever wondered what goes into those beautiful wooden or bamboo cutting boards? Especially the ones with blocks of wood artfully stuck together? We wondered too, so we looked into it. Read on to learn more!
Wood: the Good
Prepping food on wood or bamboo cutting boards has a number of known benefits. Unlike plastic, wood doesn't contribute microplastics into our food (or the environment!), and bamboo is a quickly regenerated sustainable resource. Wood materials also have antimicrobial properties, in part because they can absorb and trap bacteria deep in the wood fibers! (3) Studies have shown that properly cleaned and dried wood cutting boards harbor very few live bacteria on the cutting board surfaces (1-5).
What About the Other Stuff?
Some wood cutting boards are crafted out of single blocks of wood, but more commonly they contain pieces that are glued together. Cutting board materials fall under the FDA's "food contact substances" and "indirect food additives" regulations since any part of a cutting board could potentially touch our food (6). When FDA-approved food contact substances like glue resins/polymers are completely cured (totally dried), they are considered food safe (7). Even so, some approved substances like melamine-formaldehyde resins can release harmful gases and cause other issues for human and environmental health (8). Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and chronic low-level melamine exposure is associated with early kidney disease, among other problematic health outcomes (9). (See our article on melamine dishware to learn more about why it's not great for health). Petroleum-derived wood preservatives like paraffin wax and petroleum hydrocarbon resin are also not great for the environment.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while the FDA requires imported products to comply with the same US safety regulations, unfortunately sometimes these products are non-compliant (10). Look for products that specifically state that they meet FDA food contact regulations, or ask the manufacturer if you're not sure! Imported wood also might require fumigation with methyl bromide prior to shipping to the US, depending on what type it is and where it's coming from (11, 12). While pest management is an important step to prevent the introduction of disease or invasive species from abroad, methyl bromide contributes to ozone layer depletion and can cause system-wide bodily harm to those spraying it (13). (Bamboo timber is generally allowable without any treatment if it meets certain conditions(14).) The bottom line is that some glues, products, and practices are definitely better than others, so it's a good idea to look for wood cutting boards that minimize these health and environmental risks.
5 Recommendations for Choosing a Healthy Wood Cutting Board
We know it can be overwhelming to research the healthiest options out there, so here are 5 recommendations to help your browsing:
- Choose wood or bamboo over plastic – even with the possible concerns listed above, wood is still a better choice for decreasing your microplastic and toxin exposure!
- Look for cutting boards made from a single piece of wood (to get you started, here are non-toxic cypress, Vermont maple, and teak options). You can also find Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified boards that minimize environmental harm by using sustainably harvested woods.
- If you choose a cutting board made from multiple glued pieces (which are frankly beautiful and more widely available), make sure the glue used is free from formaldehyde and melamine. Some bamboo cutting boards like this one have a pressure/heat treated process that allow for a glue-free surface.
- Pick cutting boards with mild non-toxic coatings like beeswax (or look for an unfinished one that you can finish yourself with our DIY cutting board oil recipe below!)
- If you're not sure what types of glue or coatings a manufacturer uses (or if you want to make sure it's FDA-approved), feel free to contact them and ask what types of ingredients and regulations they use and follow. You would definitely not be the first person to ask! For reference, Titebond III and Gorilla Wood Glue are both considered safer for food contact.
DIY Cutting Board Conditioner Oil
To help you maintain a lustrous, resilient and non-toxic cutting surface, here's our simple cutting board conditioner recipe:
- 3/4 cup MCT oil (or walnut oil)
- 1/4 cup beeswax
- Directions: Melt the oil and beeswax together in the microwave or on the stovetop, then brush the mixture onto your cutting board and let it soak in for 3 hours. You can seal your boar as often as once a month, but we find that sealing it just a few times a year works well too!
If you're looking for a refresher on wood cutting board cleaning recommendations, we've got you covered here. Enjoy your culinary endeavors!
- Moore, Ginny, Ian S. Blair, and DAVID A. McDOWELL. "Recovery and transfer of Salmonella typhimurium from four different domestic food contact surfaces." Journal of food protection, vol. 70, no. 10, 2007, pp. 2273-2280. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-70.10.2273
- Lücke, Friedrich-Karl, and Agnieszka Skowyrska. "Hygienic aspects of using wooden and plastic cutting boards, assessed in laboratory and small gastronomy units." Journal für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, vol. 10, no. 4, 2015, pp. 317-322. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00003-015-0949-5
- Boursillon, Dominique, and Volker Riethmüller. "The safety of wooden cutting boards." British Food Journal vol. 109, no. 4, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1108/00070700710736561
- Ak, Nese O., Dean O. Cliver, and Charles W. Kaspar. "Cutting boards of plastic and wood contaminated experimentally with bacteria." Journal of Food Protection, vol. 57, no. 1, 1994, pp. 16-22. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-57.1.16
- Cliver, Dean O. "Cutting boards in Salmonella cross-contamination." Journal of AOAC International, vol. 89, no. 2, 2006, pp. 538-542. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaoac/89.2.538
- Liu, Chia-Chu, et al. "Interrelationship of Environmental Melamine Exposure, Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress and Early Kidney Injury." Journal of hazardous materials, vol. 396. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.122726
The current regulations in the cosmetics industry and some hope for cleaner products
When you walk into a cosmetics store what section do you go to first? The makeup, the skin care, maybe the hair care? By the time most of us are done and have gone through the entire store it's been two hours and our hands are full of different swatches of nude lipsticks, gold eyeshadows (somehow they are all slightly different), eyeliners, and maybe even a few perfumes on each arm. Cosmetics products are a staple in everyone's lives, but something most people might not be aware of is how many ingredients go into making our favorite cosmetics products like foundation or lip gloss. There's a lot of ingredients and magic that go into making foundation that gives you that perfect dewy skin look or lip gloss that is the perfect balance of sparkly and not too sticky. Due to the lack of government regulation of the ingredients in cosmetics products, there are all sorts of ingredients that are known to cause harm to humans in our makeup, lotions, deodorants, hair care, and the myriad of other cosmetic products. This issue on toxic ingredients has sparked a huge growth in cosmetic products that are labeled as "clean". Have you ever heard of clean beauty? Is it just a trend? Keep reading to explore what clean beauty is and some of the current and upcoming cosmetic regulations!
The problems with unregulated cosmetics
With the exception of hair dye, there are no laws that require cosmetic products or ingredients to be approved by the FDA before they go on the market. The FDA does not require specific safety tests to be done on a product or ingredient meaning only the individuals who manufacture and market the cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. This is a major problem! Because manufacturers are not required to test for safety, consumers do not know if they did these tests at all or if the testing they did was adequate (4). To make matters worse, if a product eventually appears to have an adverse effect, the FDA has no authority under the current regulations to force the company to recall the product, the company must do so voluntarily (12). Between the years 2004-2016, an average of 396 adverse events per year were submitted to the FDA (11). If the objective is to keep people safe, this is too little too late!
Some common toxic ingredients in typical cosmetics products are heavy metals, PFAS (a group of Teflon-like chemicals), parabens, petroleum, phthalates, and fragrances. Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, zinc, chromium, and iron are often used for coloring purposes in cosmetics from lipstick to eyeliner. They can also accidentally end up in products due to contamination during the manufacturing and packaging processes (1,17). PFAS chemicals are often found in a lot of products like pressed powder makeup, foundation, anti-aging lotions, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick (1,16). PFAS gives cosmetics a waterproofing ability along with giving it a really smooth texture on the skin (2). Parabens are a synthetic preservative that is added to cosmetics to last longer, and petroleum, a byproduct of oil refining, has a really long shelf life and softens upon use making it a beneficial addition to cosmetics. The last two common ingredients are phthalates and fragrances which often go hand in hand. Fragrances are obviously placed in a product to make it smell better (1). They can be made from petroleum or natural materials, but most of the time the entire ingredient lists are not given due to it being proprietary information for the brand. Many fragrances then add in phthalates as a solvent to make the scent stick around longer. Phthalates are used mainly in cosmetics as skin moisturizers, skin softeners, skin penetration enhancers, and as anti-brittleness and anti-cracking agents for nail polish (18).
These ingredients are known to be endocrine disruptors, and are linked to reproductive and developmental harm, allergies, and even cancers (1,19). We should also keep in mind that we could be exposed to more than one toxic ingredient everyday depending on how many cosmetic products we use. When used repeatedly, ingredients like PFAS and the different heavy metals can accumulate in our bodies over time and increase our risk for illness (1).
In addition to being hazardous to our health, these same ingredients can also be toxic to our environment. Everytime you throw something away or wash it down the drain, those chemicals are going back into the environment polluting our soil and waterways (5). It's the same as chemicals coming off of your car and polluting the environment: a toxic chemical is a toxic chemical no matter where it came from!
What clean beauty means
The term "clean beauty" is pretty subjective, but it usually means that the products contain ingredients that have been evaluated for safety and the brands are transparent about the ingredients they are using. More and more brands have been coming out with clean cosmetic products because they realized that a lot of the everyday products people use have harmful and toxic chemicals in them. Some of these brands have a list of chemicals they refuse to use like parabens, synthetic fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, and more. There are even some clean beauty retailers that require brands to disclose all of their ingredients and check them against a do not use list before they are allowed to be sold. This all seems like progress, but all of these actions are voluntary and not required under law, meaning most brands don't go that extra mile which is why there's an urgent need for new government regulation and policies for the skincare industry.
Clean Beauty Regulations
The current federal regulations are pretty lackluster. For some context, the EU has prohibited the use of 1,378 substances in cosmetic products compared to the United States which has only banned 11 substances (13,14). Some of these banned chemicals include chloroform, mercury compounds, vinyl chloride, chlorofluorocarbons, and a few others (14). This abysmal effort by the federal government has forced states to come in to propose more comprehensive safety regulation for cosmetics. One particular bill recently passed in California, has established a ban of 25 toxic ingredients in cosmetics which could have major impacts on the cosmetics market as a whole. Because California is such a big market, with about 40 million people, it might force brands to start producing cleaner products. Most brands don't want to create two separate products, one cleaner version for people living in California, and another that is suitable for the rest of the U.S.! So there is hope that this bill in California could push brands to only create clean products. There are also a few other states including Connecticut, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that have adopted policies to start cleaning up the cosmetics sold in their states (6).
Upcoming Clean Beauty Legislation
In the past few years there have been three big pieces of federal legislation that have been introduced into congress along with 9 state policies introduced by Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Most of these state and federal policies focus heavily on removing the toxic ingredients and giving the FDA more authority to recall a product and to do their own safety reviews. These policies have not been passed or turned into law, but if all goes well they will be on their way to pass in the next few years!
Why switch to clean beauty?
Switching to clean beauty products can be a great way to start limiting our exposure to toxic chemicals. But as we previously mentioned, there is no universal clean beauty standard, or list of ingredients brands need to avoid. There is very little regulation on ingredients across the entire cosmetics industry, meaning products can claim they are safe but that could mean entirely different things depending on the brand. For the most part switching to clean beauty products is likely to reduce your overall exposure to toxic ingredients because these brands have tried to reduce the number of chemicals in their products. Brands like Sephora and Target now have clean beauty sections that people can shop from, along with stores and brands like Detox Market, Follian, Credo, BeautyCounter, Ursa Major, and Biossance to name a few. These stores and brands have made it so we don't have to wait around for government regulation to get cleaner cosmetics products. If you can, try to support more clean beauty brands to show the world that there is a market and a need for cosmetic products that don't put us at risk!
Resources to support and keep updated on clean beauty legislation
We created a list of letter writing campaigns, clean beauty news sources, and information pages on current and upcoming clean beauty legislation. If you want to stay updated on clean beauty legislation and find ways to support the different state and federal policies, click on the links below!
- This link allows you to send a message to your congressional representative to support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 (H.R. 4296)!
- The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has an action alert page with multiple letter writing campaigns to tell your cosmetics companies, the FDA, and elected officials that safe cosmetics are important to you. Click the link here!
- The Environmental Working Group has a page dedicated to clean cosmetics legislation, news and reports, and where to support clean cosmetics companies.
- The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tracks upcoming and adopted state policies in regard to cosmetics and cleaning products.
- Juliano, C., & Magrini, G. A. (2017). Cosmetic Ingredients as Emerging Pollutants of Environmental and Health Concern. A Mini-Review. Cosmetics, 4(2), 11. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics4020011
- Kwa, M., Welty, L. J., & Xu, S. (2017). Adverse Events Reported to the US Food and Drug Administration for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(8), 1202–1204. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.2762
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!
- Swap out the canned coffee for coffee in a glass bottle or tetrapaks whenever possible.
- Find some fun new ways to make coffee at home like using a Chemex or a nice French press!
- Go get a coffee at your local coffee shop. Support small businesses if you can!
- 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.
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)
'What are some qualities of a good body wash? Smells goods, lathers really well, and makes you feel clean? Those sound about right, but we're missing one very important quality… body wash should be free of toxic chemicals! A lot of body washes are filled with unnecessary preservatives and synthetic fragrances and dyes that can irritate your skin. Since body wash is such a staple product and we use it on some of the most sensitive parts of our bodies, it's best to get one that is free of these harsh chemicals. Instead of picking up any old body wash at the store, check out one of the non-toxic body washes we recommend!
a) The Seaweed Bath co. hydrating soothing body wash (citrus vanilla, lavender, unscented)
b) Alaffia Everyday Shea moisturizing body wash
c) Cerave Hydrating body wash
d) Avalon Organics Bath and Shower gel lavender
e) Puracy Natural Body Wash
f) Everyone soaps 3 in 1
g) Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Body Wash
h) Billie Sudsy Body Wash
i) Native body wash lavender and rose
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