The Dangers of Plastic

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The problem with plastic for health and our planet
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It seems to be a common theme in history that the things that lead to great progress and convenience also come with a big price. This seems to be very much true with plastic products and packaging.

There is no denying that inexpensive plastics have made many aspects of food and water distribution much easier (though I would argue that this is problematic as well), but emerging research and data from decades of increasing use of plastics suggest that we need to seriously reevaluate our plastic usage.

Personally, I’m convinced that our health and the health of our planet would be much better off if we drastically reduced our use of plastic. Here’s why:

Health Problems with Plastic

Certain chemicals in plastics, like Bisphenol-A (BPA), have gotten media exposure for their potential health problems but there’s much more to the problem that a few isolated chemicals.


BPA is often added to plastics to make them more durable, but it was once given to animals like cows and chickens to cause them to gain weight before slaughter. BPA is known to disrupt hormones and can mimic the effect of estrogen in the body, leading to weight gain and hormone imbalance.

From The Journal of the Yale School of Environmental Studies:

There is also now abundant research that links BPA and phthalate exposure to such human health concerns as deformities of the male and female genitals; premature puberty in females; decreased sperm quality; and increases in breast and prostate cancers, infertility, miscarriages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, allergies and neurological problems, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It is widely known that plastics from food packaging can leach into food and enter the body. The CDC reports that over 92% of people who were tested had detectable levels of BPA and other plastic chemicals in their bodies (including newborn babies).

“Estrogenic chemicals found in many common products have been linked to a litany of problems in humans and animals. According to one study, the pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD. “Pick a disease, literally pick a disease,” says Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who studies BPA.”


Phthalates are also found in many plastics and in high levels in indoor air. The European Union banned them in 2005 and many other countries have banned them as well.

Phthalates are considered to be especially harmful to men and boys, especially those exposed in utero. They are linked to immune system impairment, reduced testosterone, infertility in men and many other problems.

Plastics and the Planet

To go all Captain Planet for a minute, plastics are literally taking over the earth at a terrifying rate.

Dr. Alan Christianson, an expert in endocrine health, speaks the drastically rising rates of obesity in humans and in many other animal species (including wild animals whose diets have not changed). In his upcoming Adrenal Reset Diet book (I highly recommend it), he explains how many factors can contribute to these problems, but that they all share the trait of negatively affecting the endocrine system, especially the adrenals.

The chemicals in plastics are known endocrine disruptors, and this common thread may explain why we are seeing these problems in many species of animals around the world.

When we consider how long it takes for plastic to break down, and the high levels of plastic pollution found even in areas not inhabited by humans (like the ice and water of the Antarctic), we can start to understand how big of a problem plastic pollution can be.

UV light and the salt in seawater cause microscopic particles of plastic to emit toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDT. When ingested by many types of marine species, these can be mistaken for estradiol, a sex hormone, causing a variety of symptoms related to endocrine disruption. Additionally, the chemicals tend to bioaccumulate in organisms as they move up the food chain, and can eventually lead to tainted populations of fish that humans regularly consume.

These sorts of problems have led Charles Moore, an oceanographer and racing boat captain who played a significant role in discovering and publicizing the great Pacific Garbage Patch, to argue that plastic pollution has become a more urgent problem for ocean life than climate change. “The sad thing is we thought Antarctic waters were clean,” he told the Australian Associated Press after the Tara‘s findings were announced. ”We no longer have an ocean anywhere that is free of pollution.”

With widespread plastic usage, it is likely that these problems will only get worse. reports that:

• Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
• About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
• A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
• More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
• Only 1 in 200 plastic bags in the UK are recycled (BBC).
• The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
• Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
• Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
• Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.

Plastics are widely considered safe by regulatory agencies, but not because they have been tested and proven to be safe. In most cases, this just means they have not been tested at all or that industry sponsored tests have shown them to be safe in small levels.

Where are These Most Commonly Found?

Different types of plastic chemicals are found in various types of plastics. This chart from the Ecology Center shows some of the most common chemicals and their sources:

Chemicals in plastics

The documentary Unacceptable Levels points out many of the most prominent sources of plastic pollution in our homes.

I know some people reading this are defaulting to the “oh please, everything is going to kill us anymore, this is just alarmist and fear inducing,” mindset, and I don’t blame them. It is hard not to feel like everything is out to get us sometimes, but I truly believe that plastic exposure might be the “cigarettes” of our generation.

It was once considered absurd that smoking could be unhealthy, and there were even campaigns claiming that more doctors preferred one brand of cigarettes to another. Soda was once marketed as a healthy drink for small babies. Regulatory agencies once considered now-banned chemicals like DDT safe for use and there were even ad campaigns promoting their usage around children.

Vintage Ads that show things we once thought were safe

We now look back and laugh at the idea that smoking is completely safe and laugh… perhaps that is how we will think of plastic in just a couple of decades. (Update: A reader brought to my attention that the soda ad was actually a hoax designed to make fun of other poor advertising from that time- though I found it used as an example of vintage advertising on several reputable sites. I have verified the authenticity of the other two ads and decided to leave the soda ad but disclose this information)

What Can We Do?

Unfortunately, plastics take a really long time to break down and the high levels of plastics in landfills, oceans and even remote areas of the planet paint a rather bleak picture of the future for plastic pollution.

One big thing we can all do is to reduce the amount of plastic products we are buying and using. This will reduce our own exposure to plastic pollution, our planet’s plastic load, and will often save money as well. Some great ways to reduce plastic exposure:

  • Start using a glass or stainless steel water bottle in place of disposable plastic water bottles (this is my favorite). Even better, fill your water bottle from a re-usable stainless steel water filter that will also help reduce chemical exposure from water.
  • Switch to reusable grocery bags instead of plastic or paper bags. These are widely available at many stores or you can make your own from old t-shirts. Bring lightweight mesh bags to the store to use for produce.
  • Stop buying processed foods that are packaged in plastics. This is a huge step for your health on its own, but it will also reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce each year. Shop at farmers markets and use reusable bags. If it is in a plastic bag or a box, just don’t buy it.
  • Replace plastic bags and plastic food storage containers with safer reusable options. Plastic bags, plastic wrap and thin plastic storage containers are major sources of plastic exposure. Switch to glass or stainless steel for storage, or use an unbreakable option like silicone. I like this silicon storage available here (use the code WMX10 to get 10% off). You can even make your own reusable snack bags.
  • Buy wooden or metal toys for children instead of plastic. (They last longer too!)
  • Bring your own glass/metal bottle or thermos when buying drinks away from home. Don’t get takeout food in Styrofoam containers which are a major source of plastic chemicals and waste.
  • Consider using cloth diapers instead of disposable. Here’s what we use.
  • Use glass and metal dishes, silverware and bakeware in place of plastic.
  • Recycle whatever you can!

Have you ever thought about how much plastic is in use in your family’s daily life? What suggestions do you have to help reduce it? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


106 responses to “The Dangers of Plastic”

  1. Cari Avatar

    What do your kids drink out of at home? I have too many little ones to use glass safely, and I cannot seem to find quality stainless tumblers. Some have rolled lips that catch food and grime, some are reported to rust or have a metallic taste or residue. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    P.S. My husband, a functional medicine chiropractor, posted an article on phthalates the same day you posted this article. 🙂

  2. Jess Avatar

    What are your thoughts on the kids’ plates that are made from recycled milk jugs? We are about 90% plastic free, but have run into trouble in looking for plates and dishes for our LO. He isn’t big enough to be trusted with glass plates (still very amused by his ability to make things fly off the table!), so we have been looking for other options. Our go-to right now is the Ooga silicone divided plates and bowls, but they are quite expensive. In my search for green, kid-safe tableware, I keep coming across the milk jug ones and they have great reviews, but I am leery about them since they are still plastic and will be used to hold food. Have you looked into these at all?

    1. Betsy Avatar

      I’ve been using Green Wave bowls but they also have plates at
      It is a restaurant website but anyone can order. They also have Green Wave square plates and in smaller quantities.

      [i don’t use the bowls all the time but love having this to use occasionally & not feel bad about using them]

  3. Maria Avatar


    Bringing your own containers to the bulk section is allowed where I live. Seeing people with mason jars or other types of containers is becoming more common. Only once did I have a cranky cashier question whether I included the weight of the jar on the label indicating the charges – which I did – no biggy. Told her to weigh the whole thing in her little scale that is used for her to ring up produce. (Dummy)

    Keep on!

  4. JoAn Avatar

    How safe is silicon? Have you ever researched it? Are all brands of it safe? I can’t find much info on it. Thank you for all your hard work, Katie.

  5. Bele Avatar

    Great article. We now take paper bags and glass jars when shopping at the markets or bulkfoods place. We’ve replaced our plastic dish washing brushes and sponges with natural brushes and old cotton clothes cut up into squares and I’m currently researching the best natural toothbrushes.
    I was wondering if silicon safe to cook with?

  6. Cherie Avatar

    Hi Katie! This topic is a huge part of my family’s beliefs. For the past 6 years now, we’ve been using reusable shopping bags (and produce bags), storing leftovers in glass, not bought a single disposable water bottle and cloth diapered 2 children. We barely use paper towels, a roll lasts months and any plastic bags that do come into our house from breads and other foods go in the recycling.
    Sometimes I get fed up , feeling like I’m the only one caring about these things. Why doesn’t everyone in North America follow these guidelines? I recently started buying biodegradable garbage bags to use for our trash. Their intent is for compost foods, but the garbage men haven’t complained as of yet. Not like we have a huge amount of garbage for our family of 5, but I felt bad using 2-3 plastic bags a week. Our city has a great recycling program, so that does help cutting back on trash in the landfill. I do wish there were more glass options b/c recycled plastic pellets are a huge problem in the ocean. And it stinks that the food initially comes in more plastic options than glass.
    We live in such a throw-away society!
    I try to buy groceries that don’t come prepackaged, but it’s tough. I may ask the staff at the bulk store if I can bring my own containers (like mason jars) to buy nuts, spices, grains, ect.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one living by these guidelines…Love your site!

  7. Shonna-Lee Avatar

    Hi, I have been on a mission to reduce plastic in my family’s life but have found that at my children’s schools and daycare they will not allow alternatives. I tried to send my daughter to daycare with a cup to drink out of instead of a plastic water bottle and they carried on quite a lot. I even had glass jars to store her homemade yoghurt….they refused to feed it to her. Sandwiches must be wrapped in plastic food wrap. I am really angry and enquired in our country town as to other childcare services that might allow me to use alternatives to plastic but they all refused saying it was policy and if the child dropped a container then it may a danger to them and other children. I am so angry that they can’t even consider anything other than plastic. They all look at me like I am a weirdo. I feel that the “mother knows best” and that they can’t recognize a new culture of parenting which includes caring for the planet as well as family health. This new idea of packaging my children’s food in other ways other than using plastic frightens them. Do you have any suggestions that can help me? I talked to them about the dangers of plastics on children’s health. They look back at me like I am going overboard. They sprout their rules and policies back to me verbatim. I don’t know how to wake them up into reality. Plastics are bad for our health and bad for our planet. PS. I live in Australia.

    1. Steph Avatar

      Would you be able to try stainless steel with them? We found stainless steel drinking cups for our kids at Indian grocery stores. If you don’t have that kind of place in Australia, I’m sure you might be able to find something online. Just be sure the rim is rolled so no one can complain about “sharp” edges if they are looking for excuses.
      Montessori preschools actually tend to encourage the use of real items like glass – they have pouring activities and such with real glass pitchers, etc. and are great, developmentally for kids, if you can afford it.

      1. Shonna-Lee Avatar

        Thanks….I did just go and buy a stainless steel drink container from the health food shop here. That ticks one box…now I am trying to find sandwich wraps…they had reusable ones….but guess what…they were PLASTIC. I am going to a larger regional city to shop in about 6 weeks time so I will hopefully find some more alternatives there. Thanks for your ideas 🙂

    2. Alissa Avatar

      Hi Shonna,
      Have a look in organic/health shops. Yesterday I saw a brand named “Husk” in an organic shop in Melbourne (beaconsfield). Looks like plastic, light & breakproof. I found them online.
      Hope that helps!

      1. Shonna-Lee Avatar

        Thanks….later on tonight I will jump online and have a look at what they have….I really appreciate your help with that 🙂

  8. Catherine Avatar

    Thank you for this post, Katie! This is a topic that I am extremely fired up about right now. So much so I developed a “Bottle Free until 2015 pledge” to commit to not using plastic water bottles for the rest of the year. Thank you for discussing this important topic!

  9. Julia Compaan Avatar
    Julia Compaan

    This article sums up exactly why my husband and I started Container Emporium, an online retail store devoted to safe and healthy food storage using glass, ceramic and stainless steel containers. I always cringed at the idea of heating things up in the microwave, especially in plastic. Ever open up a coffee pot after its done brewing? That smell just turns me off!

    1. Terri Avatar

      Just checked out your website. It looks like a great resource for safe food/overall storage. Thanks so much for providing this information to us 🙂

  10. Melissa Avatar

    I had another wake up call about plastics after I purchased a box of unbleached wax “sandwich” bags. I was really trying to reduce our plastics exposure, but to my dismay I realized that I was transferring everything FROM plastic (nuts, for example) into these wax bags. I guess I have more work to do. I am pretty motivated though. I am very interested in endocrine health for my family. Will certainly check out Dr. Christianson’s book!

  11. Meghan Avatar

    Thanks so much for this article, Katie. Here in California plastic shopping bags were just outlawed which is a good first step, I’d say. I’m curious, though, what to use in place of plastic wrap and dog cleanup bags – which in a big city are sort of a must-?

    1. Jamie Avatar

      We use old newspaper or magazine or old books we don’t read instead of just throwing it. Hope it helps.

  12. Jamal Colaire Avatar
    Jamal Colaire

    Would you consider using BPA-Free plastic bottles instead of ordinary plastic bottles?

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      Most research I’ve seen is now showing that BPA free isn’t a good alternative either since the BPA is just replaced with another chemical that can also be harmful. I’ve used glass or metal bottles.

  13. Kimberly Avatar

    Do you have product suggestions for packing school lunches in, instead of plastic containers? Also, sippy cup suggestions for toddlers that are not plastic? We have thermos stainless cups but the straw piece is very difficult to get clean.
    Thank you!

  14. Elle Avatar

    This was a great post! Thanks as always for all of the helpful information 🙂

    I have a random question that I have been meaning to ask. My fiance and future in-laws LOVE restaurant food (as do I), and while we are grain free diet at home, it is SO hard when we go out. Do you have any suggestions on what to eat at restaurants while still remaining healthy and on the diet? Thanks!

    Also…do you have any good recommendations for a substitute for tortilla chips? I can’t get my fiance to stop eating them! I am so tired of nagging him LOL

    -Elle 🙂

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      For chips, I like kale chips or cheese chips. When eating out, I like sushi (although it still has rice unless you actually get sashimi). I hear Brazilian-style steakhouses are a dream come true for real food lovers, but I haven’t been to one myself. Supposedly it is one big parade of high-quality meat with a generous salad bar thrown in for fun. I love Italian food but it is hard to find Italian (restaurant) food that is grain-free.

      1. Betsy Avatar

        I’ve tried the kale chips but mine just haven’t turned out right – yet.
        But recently tried the cheese chips & love ’em. – Maybe it’s a good thing I only recently found the recipe for ’em -…. lol

        By accident I found that a little bit of the cheese chips were left on the plate after I had sliced a Green apple onto it – and one slice tasted really good – then I found out that it was the partial cheese chip that was so good with the apple.
        So I sliced another apple (later) and put cheese on top of each. This time I didn’t let the cheese get ‘crispy’ as i should have – so next time I plan to put the cheese first then cook until about ready then put the slices of apple on top before cooking longer. I think I’ll prefer the crispy apple (not cooked so much) with the crispy cheese chips – I’ll figure it out….

        And just FYI – I have found that using the Toaster Oven is fantastic for baking snacks or just a little bit of anything (I’m single so this works great) – such as zucchini pizza bites which I eat a lot of now.

    2. Betsy Avatar

      check out Beanitos chips. – check the ingredients to make certain you can eat them – they change per different type of chips.

      But they are made from beans – so don’t over-do or you’ll get the same ‘reaction’ as when you eat beans… lol

    3. Lisa Wolfe Avatar
      Lisa Wolfe

      At most restaurants I find they will allow for substitutions, so that I end up with a protein and lots of vegetables. The only aspects I still have little to no control over are what kind of oils the foods are cooked in and likelihood that meats are factory farmed.

  15. Sarah Avatar

    We love buying frozen fruits and veggies to have in fridge whenever we need them, but they are all in plastic bags..what do you suggest? Buy fresh then freeze?

    1. Betsy Avatar

      I’ve tried various frozen fruit brands but found that they just don’t taste like the ‘real’ thing to me – so i’ve stopped buying frozen fruits. And can’t remember when I last bought frozen veggies.

      As for fruit or veggies – I freeze if not eaten soon enough. And they taste so much better than the typical frozen varieties in grocery stores.

  16. Megan Avatar

    We’ve been using mason jars in our home instead of plastic bottles and tumblers. I love how rustic they feel and knowing that I’m not poisoning myself OR the environment. <3.

    1. Betsy Avatar

      I have recently begun using mason jars for storing so much of my ‘stuff’ – seeds, nuts, xylitol, quinoa, etc. and my fresh juices from my juicer & different left overs, etc. – They are higher and not spread out like the usual bowls I had always used before – so can put more in the frig or cabinets.

    2. Sosaidh Eilis Avatar
      Sosaidh Eilis

      EVERYTHING tastes better if you drink it out of a mason jar!! Especially milk.. Yummy! How I miss drinking

  17. Bee Avatar

    Thank you for such a great article. The use of plastic nowadays is almost used in everything and it is so easy to obtain as well. Even warming up food in plastic is not good either as well as the styrofoam, as mentioned in the article. In addition, the investment of purchasing reusable bags helps the environment and pays off in the long run. I have also found it to be so useful because some stores give incentives to use the reusable bags by reducing a small amount off your bill, which pays off in the long run and saves money as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. A great reminder in evaluating what we use daily and what we take for granted.

  18. Andrea Avatar

    Going plastic-free seems overwhelming at this moment, so perhaps a little at a time. I have two questions:
    1. We buy a lot of milk in plastic 1-gallon containers. I don’t see our family of 8 going without milk, so what could be some alternatives there?
    2. What are your thoughts on simply using non-BPA plastic, for food storage and such?

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      1. We get milk from local farmers if we get it- it comes in glass jars and jugs and we return them each week. This reduces a lot of waste as well.
      2. Some are decent, but most just replace the BPA with another harmful chemical. We use silicon, metal or glass for storage.

      1. Betsy Avatar

        I agree – drinking milk straight from the cow is the best milk. Also using glass jars/bottles is also how we got our milk while I was growing up – & straight from the cow… – not that watered-down stuff they have at grocery stores today.

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