Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME

Leif Reads: The Scary Presence of Plastics

Every month Aths and I are reading one eco-centered book for our feature Leif Reads. To find out more about this feature visit the about page.

When Aths recommended we read the frightening Slow Death by Rubber Duck this month I was a little skeptical. My mom is pretty seriously aware of chemicals and worries about their effects on humans. I heard a lot of "Don't microwave that bowl!" and "Never buy Teflon pans!" growing up. There is a lot of that in Slow Death by Rubber Duck, but while reading this one night I let out a very audible "Oh my gosh!" while reading--something that doesn't happen too often. And the amazement was over toys, which I wasn't really expecting to read a whole lot about.

"I have to admit that I find the role of toy companies exposing kids to toxins very surprising. It's a bit like realizing that Santa's elves long ago started consorting with Darth Vader and were "turned to the dark side" without anyone noticing. Like many parents I clued into the fact that toy safety standards have,shall we say, slipped in recent years only when Zack's (author's son) 'Thomas the Tank Engine' was one of 1.5 million little trains that were recalled in June 2007. We'd had it for a few years, both Zack and Owain had regularly handled it and put it in their mouths and I wasn't too pleased to find out that its chipped paint was actually full of lead."

So, let me back up a little bit. Slow Death by Rubber Duck is written by two Canadian environmentalists who set out to find just how dangerous the chemicals in every day things are. And so far they've found that these things are pretty dangerous. We are constantly exposed to them and our bodies do, in fact, absorb the chemicals. Studies done in Canada have shown that all humans have traces of chemicals in their bodies.

What is most striking is how dependent we are on plastics even though we know there are bad things in them. One specific chemical often found in plastics are phthalates. They supposedly are not in food packaging in the US, although that is a little debatable. One of the authors of this book tries to give up on plastics, or at least mostly avoid them. It's only when he tries to stop using them that he realizes they are everywhere. He already knows not to microwave things in plastic containers since the chemicals will transfer into the food, but there are other less obvious places plastic makes an appearance. Even fruits and baggies come in it, even if they are fresh you put them in the plastic bags. I have reusable bags made for fruits and veggies and even those are plastic.

In addition to the bad health effects of plastic, plastic packaging is something that is often thrown away when it can be recycled. Quite a few types of plastic bags and packaging can be recycled, and sometimes it just takes a little common sense. Ice cream bar wrapper? Probably not. If you're unsure check out this great resource at ThinkGreen.

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Leif Reads: The Scary Presence of Plastics + TIME