Plastic is all around us and there’s no escaping it. It’s a lightweight and durable material, so there’s no wonder it’s popular. But there is growing concern about the health impacts of such widespread use.
We all know the impact of plastic pollution in our ocean environments; examples of entanglement in plastic or abandoned fishing equipment hit social media daily. And ingestion of plastic leading to premature death by seabirds, fish and turtle is well-documented. But these examples all relate to the plastic that we can see.
What about the impact we can’t see?
Plastic has not only made it into our food chain, it is now even polluting the air that we breathe. Nano-plastic particles, so small that they cannot be detected by the human eye, are entering our bodies. They are reaching our bloodstream, lungs and other organs and we don’t yet know the health impact of this. Even if there turns out to be no health impact from eating and breathing small amounts of plastic, there is a concern that nanoplastics can act as a vector for pathogens to enter the body.
Is it time to look at the plastic we use day-today and see how we can minimise our exposure in our homes?
Let’s start by investigating the impacts of plastic where we prepare our food. Because if we know the risks, we can make a plan to reduce or remove them.
One of the primary concerns with plastic in the kitchen is its potential to leach harmful chemicals into our food. When exposed to heat or acidic ingredients, plastic can release hazardous substances such as bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. Numerous scientific studies have linked these substances to hormonal imbalances, reproductive issues, and other health problems, with the greatest effects on infants. You may already avoid heating food in plastic storage containers and choosing glass instead, but plastic utensils may also leach toxins. By opting for non-plastic utensils made of metal or wood when cooking your food, you minimize the risk of these toxins contaminating your meals.
Release of Microplastics
When we cook with plastic utensils that are wearing out, or use pans with a non-stick coating, we may be releasing millions of plastic particles into our food and the wider environment. A recent study by the University of Newcastle found that scratching a non-stick pan could release 2.3 million microplastic and nanoplastic particles. And even normal use without scratching the surface may also lead to the release of plastic particles. By using wooden utensils we can avoid scratching the non-stick coating and by using cast iron or uncoated aluminium pans, we can avoid any microplastic release at all.
Plastic utensils and chopping boards can develop scratches and crevices over time, providing breeding grounds for bacteria that are difficult to clean thoroughly. Stainless steel, bamboo, or wooden utensils, on the other hand, are naturally antibacterial and easier to keep clean. Bamboo chopping boards are made using thin strips held together with large amounts of glue, which may also have toxic properties. The best option for your kitchen would be a solid chopping board made from one piece of wood.
Armed with this knowledge, we can make better choices when we are replacing items in our kitchens. Happy toxin-free cooking!