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9936 chemicals found in plastic products used for food packaging

We use plastic wrap, containers, and packaging all the time. It’s convenient, affordable, and seemingly everywhere. Recent research by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) reveals a shocking truth: our plastic food packaging harbors thousands of different chemicals that may pose significant health risks.

Chemicals in plastic food packaging

Scientists uncovered a staggering 9,936 different chemicals within a single plastic product used to package food. This finding underscores the vast gaps in our understanding of the precise chemical makeup of everyday plastic items and their potential impacts on our well-being.

“Plastic is a very complex material that can contain many different chemicals, some of which can be harmful. This is also true for plastic food packaging,” says Martin Wagner, an NTNU professor who specializes in plastic chemicals.

Consequences of plastic food packaging

Many of the chemicals identified in plastic food packaging are not just passive elements; they actively disrupt crucial bodily functions. These disruptions can have profound and potentially long-term health effects.

Messing with the metabolism

Metabolism is essentially your body’s engine. It converts the food you eat into energy, fuels cellular processes, and regulates how nutrients are stored and used.

This complex system is finely tuned, ensuring that your body functions efficiently. However, chemicals leached from plastic food packaging can interfere with this system.

For example, certain chemicals can mimic or block natural hormonal signals that control metabolism. This interference can lead to a decrease in metabolic efficiency, impacting energy levels, weight management, and overall health.

The disruption can also affect how your body processes vitamins and minerals, potentially leading to nutritional deficiencies.

Hormonal havoc

Hormones play a pivotal role in regulating virtually every bodily function, including growth, development, metabolism, and mood. They act as messengers, sending signals throughout the body to sustain balance and respond to environmental changes.

The chemicals found in plastic packaging, however, can disrupt this delicate balance. Some chemicals act as endocrine disruptors, which means they can mimic or inhibit natural hormones.

When these chemicals enter the body, they can bind to hormone receptors, block natural hormonal messages, or alter the normal production of hormones.

This disruption can lead to a multitude of health issues, ranging from developmental problems and reproductive issues to immune system dysfunctions and behavioral changes.

“In most of these plastic products, we found chemicals that can affect the secretion of hormones and metabolism,” says Wagner.

But isn’t plastic inert?

You might think that plastic is harmless – it’s just a chemically neutral substance. However, as shown in another recent NTNU study, scientists found that several combinations of plastic chemicals can affect how your body sends and receives signals.

This finding suggests that plastic’s impact goes beyond simple containment of goods. Instead, it actively engages with biological processes, potentially leading to a cascade of unwanted effects.

The implication here is stark: plastic, far from being chemically neutral, carries a variety of active compounds that can interfere with our body’s most fundamental operations.

What can we do?

While the discovery of harmful chemicals in plastic food packaging is indeed concerning, it’s important to remember that you have the power to make choices that reduce your exposure and improve your overall health.

Choosing safer alternatives

Glass or steel containers are considered to be the safest bet. These materials are inert, meaning they do not react with the foods stored inside them.

Glass and steel are durable, reusable, and free from the chemicals typically found in plastics. Using glass or stainless steel containers for everyday food storage and meal prep can significantly decrease your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Avoid heating food in plastic

When plastic is heated, whether in a microwave or by other means, it increases the likelihood of chemical leaching. To avoid this risk, never use plastic containers for heating food in the microwave. Instead, transfer food to glass or ceramic containers that are designed to withstand high temperatures.

Be informed and vigilant

Start by familiarizing yourself with the materials used in the products you buy. Look specifically for products labeled “BPA-free”.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the better-known chemicals that can leach from plastics and has been linked to various health issues, including hormonal disruptions and increased risk of cancer.

While BPA-free products are a safer choice, they may still contain other harmful chemicals, so continued caution and a push for broader safety testing and transparency in labeling are essential.

Taking these steps can significantly reduce your personal and family’s exposure to harmful chemicals found in plastic products.

While broader change in how plastics are manufactured must come from industry and legislation, individual actions can collectively lead to greater demand for safer products and ultimately drive change in production practices.

A call for safer plastics

Martin Wagner and his team believe the problem isn’t plastic itself, but the chemicals added to it. With more research on exactly which chemicals pose the biggest threats, we may one day have plastic packaging that’s completely safe – a win for both our health and the environment.

While we still don’t know the long-term effects of constant exposure to these chemicals, scientists at NTNU believe that now is the time to overhaul our plastic manufacturing.

“These and previous findings show that plastic exposes us to toxic chemicals. They support the theory that we need to redesign plastic to make it safer,” states Wagner.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.


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