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. Rohini Avatar

    Did you know that disposable plastic bags take a second to make but last for a thousand years?

  2. Karen Avatar

    No one ever says keep the plastic contained. Plastic bags are floating everywhere, stuck to trees and fences. The plastic did not get there by itself.

  3. Linda Carroll Avatar
    Linda Carroll

    Thanks for great post. Totally agree with you that plastics are damage! But I have a question, what should I do in order to buy products such as cheese or ice-cream which come in plastic tubs? Would transferring to glass containers at home solve the issue, or would it probably be too late at that point with the plastic already soaking into the food?

  4. Sarah Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama! I would love to present this information in a class I’m giving. Do I need permission to share it from you first?

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      You are always welcome to share it with attribution! Thanks for checking. I don’t allow full republishing of my articles online but you are welcome to share links or excerpts.

  5. Niti Shah Avatar
    Niti Shah

    Hello Katie,
    What do you have to say about Plastic Retainers? Orthodontist says it is medical grade and is absolutely safe but am scared to have that sitting in my daughter;s mouth for 8-10 hours every night. I try to do my best living naturally and eating whole foods.
    I try to avoid plastic in daily life but how can I avoid this?
    Thank you for awesome posts always!

  6. Amanda H Avatar

    I love my pyrex ! However it still requires a plastic lid and they break down after a while.. I’ve seen the wax cloth covers but they don’t look like allow stacking so we’ll.. what do you recommend? Also, for certain dishes that need roasting in an oven to retain moist texcutre what do you recommend? Glass casserole dishes? Advice would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Ginny Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    I’m a new follower and have learned so much from your website. It’s a little overwhelming and I have so far to go to get my little family going in the right direction – especially with my husband kicking and screaming the entire way 🙂 – but I have a quick question regarding water bottles. My husband works in the oil fields in Texas – he is in the worst kind of heat for 8+ hours per day. He goes through a 24 pack of water bottles easily each day. I’m overwhelmed with the prospect of how to change that, but now I’m very concerned about the risks of him drinking so much water from toxic containers. I know this is a pretty unique situation but any thoughts/ideas on what can be done? Thank you!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Wow- that is a lot of water! I would think that would get expensive over time too. Would he consider stocking up on some insulated metal bottles like Hydroflask? He could fill several of the big half-gallon ones with ice water and they would stay cool all day, even in high heat, and would avoid the plastic. Might save money in the long run too…

  8. Annie Avatar

    Hi, thanks for all of the great info on this site! I am wondering about the link to the reusable mesh grocery bags. They appear to be made out of polyester…which is plastic, isn’t it? Perhaps muslin bags would be better?

  9. Steven L Avatar
    Steven L

    This site is very helpful. I just wish that this awareness could be extended to other sites all over since this concerns all human beings. Many people are ignorant about how dangerous plastics really are and they have greatly embraced the use of plastics in their household mostly because plastics are cheaper. This therefore comes back to the little children who are going to get affected unknowingly. Governments must get involved to address this issue since they have a wider audience and are responsible for the wellbeing of their citizens. We need to work together in order to save ourselves.

  10. Jen Avatar

    Hi there! I am wondering if you or anyone else has found a good non-plastic system for storing breastmilk. I like to have a supply in the freezer for nights with the grandparents and other outings but haven’t found anything other than the plastic storage bags. Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Actually working on a response to this… but there are several flaws, including that actual exposure is much higher than the “safe” amount in this report but measuring methods are flawed and some sources of exposure are discounted. I agree… there is so much info on both sides, and it is definitely something I will continue to write about…

  11. Bria McKinnon Avatar
    Bria McKinnon

    So I have gone through my kitchen and thrown out any plastic I can live without until I can replace it. I bought a bunch of stuff at the thrift store and then discovered pyrex is made with a small amount of aluminum! I already got rid of all my aluminum foil so this really shocked me. I have lots of pyrex! What are your thoughts on anchor hocking, made with soda lime silicate? I am thinking ceramic might be the best option overall. Now for the kids, I threw out anything they have a habit of chewing on. I thought I was doing great with my cloth diapers, but I realized they are made with PUL, another plastic product, and even the snaps! So really, I want to live a life without plastic, but everywhere i look I am surrounded! My last grocery trip was very interesting to say the least.

  12. Lori Avatar

    Been saying all of this for years and my friends and family think I’m crazy! Ha! It is an important topic and there are some easy solutions like the ones you suggest. Thanks so much, Wellness Mama!

  13. Bria McKinnon Avatar
    Bria McKinnon

    Looking around me I think I have to get rid of more than half of my family’s possessions. I will start with kitchen and eating utensils first, but I am overwhelmed when I look everywhere else. All my kids’ toys, toothbrushes, plastic boxes and containers.. Is acrylic bad too? I want to be completely plastic free. My son will be heartbroken when he sees me getting rid of all his toys. Thanks for the eyeopener.

  14. Sarah Dyer Avatar
    Sarah Dyer

    I reuse plastic bags from the grocery store as my trash bags. I like the idea of switching to reusable grocery bags but then I would just have to buy plastic trash bags… Unless someone has a better idea?! Thanks for the great info as always!!

    1. S. Kramer Avatar
      S. Kramer

      Christa, there was a series recently by Dr. Tom O’Bryan, “Betrayal Series, the AutoImmune Solution They’re Not Telling You.” Episodes 1 and 8 had at least one interview with someone who had Hashimoto’s. The recordings are available. You can for sure find Episode 1 on YouTube and you can Google Betrayal Series Episode 8 for the interviews.
      Basically, there is hope for people with auto-immune diseases. Healing is possible. The solution, believe it or not, lies in the gut. There’s a lot of new information on gut health, the microbiome, and the Functional Medicine approach.
      Actually, I just discovered Katie’s Wellness Family Summit and Danielle Walter’s video (Module 13) on Auto-Immune Disease. If you haven’t seen that video, you might want to check it out.

      Sarah, as for using the plastic bags from the store for the garbage, I do the same when I manage to buy more than I anticipate when I take along my re-usable bags. I do buy only in glass whenever possible and compost whatever is compostable, That really cuts down on what goes to the landfill.

  15. Joe Avatar

    My wife and I just purchased stainless steel drinking straws; these are obviously re-usable but must be carefully cleaned <—— totally worth it when you consider the number of plastic straws which get used *once* then discarded.
    Great article… and thanks to those who responded with even more tips and suggestions!

  16. Jennifer Avatar

    I know this was already asked, but what about the freezer? I like to freeze veggies for the winter and all our farm raised meat comes sealed in plastic. Any ideas?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      It is definitely better at cold temperatures than when plastic is heated, but some of the plastic chemicals can still transfer to the meat. It is really tough to find a way to get quality meats without plastic of some kind, unfortunately.

  17. Annie Avatar

    It is REALLY hard to completely avoid plastic in food packaging. What do you do about meat? Even when you go straight to the butcher, the butcher paper is lined with plastic….

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