By Larraine Roulston:
For the estimated 26% of Americans who eat takeout food every week: it is not a good idea to serve hot food placed on plastic. Styrofoam, even paper containers with a plastic inner lining, trigger seeping chemicals. Scientists and health advocates are raising the alarm that chemicals in plastic can leach into our food. An announcement from the Guardian states, “We’re just beginning to understand some of the short- and long-term risks associated with the chemicals in packaging: obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other health issues.”
For the benefit of your own well-being, the following specific packaging should be avoided:
- Coffee Cups: Even paper cups contain a plastic lining to prevent liquids from leaking into the outer paper layer. When a hot drink is in a paper cup, the boiled beverage steeps inside a plastic film. Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes that this is “probably not the safest thing to do.” Solutions include bringing your own thermos, investigating a short-stack coffee mug, and packing a mason jar for cold drinks.
- Takeout Containers: The safest containers are brown or white paper boxes composed of 100% recycled paperboard that include a seal stating they are compostable — unlike the smooth molded fiber bowls that contain PFSA or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. These bowls are not biodegradable as they claim to be and, according to The New Food Economy, contain cancer-linked chemicals. When placing takeout orders, let restaurants know that you prefer using your own containers. Gathering a zero waste emergency food kit to take into supermarkets, delis and restaurants will enable you to refuse their packaging.
- Aluminum Cans: To prevent contact with aluminum, food cans are lined with a (BPA) epoxy. This lining has the side effect of leaching BPA, a hormone-disrupting bisphenol, into your drink. Every year, the USA manufactures 100 billion cans, almost all of which are lined with BPA. You are best to purchase beverages in glass. (We also need to return to the bottle refund system.)
- Food Wrapped in Plastic: Regarding the clinging plastic film that is used to enclose fresh vegetables/fruit on Styrofoam trays, the Guardian reports that this type of disposable plastic “might actually introduce chemicals that could infiltrate your food.” As well, it cannot be recycled; therefore, to be food safe, choose loose produce and place it into your own small cloth bags.
- Microwave: Some frozen food and paper packaging claim that they are “microwave safe”; however, there is no plastic or commercial wrapping that is safe in a microwave. Rather, always use ceramic or glass plates, bowls or mugs.
- Fast Food Wax Paper: Paper wrappers forburgers, flat bags to hold pastries and paperboard packaging for fried foods often contain fluorinated chemicals.
Rome’s elite citizens enjoyed drinks cooked in lead vessels. Some historians believe that this resulted in diseases caused by lead poisoning, which hastened the fall of the Roman Empire. Could today’s use of plastics with food cause a similar situation?
It’s easy to bring your own safe eating containers once you get into the habit.
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure stories on composting and pollinating. To view, visit: www.castlecompost.com