December-19: Health

How to reduce plastic use in everyday life



Plastic has become impossible to avoid in modern life. It is found in thousands of items of daily use, from toys, electronics, personal care products to many single-use items, from grocery bags to disposable dishes/ cutlery to food wrappers. It lines soup cans and leaches out of storage containers. Over time, a lot of the plastic produced has broken down and the particles have found their way into lakes, rivers and the ocean, thereby also contaminating our food and water. When we eat a bite of food or have a sip of water, we are taking in tiny plastic particles (called microplastics) along with it. We even breathe in tiny plastic fragments or fibres.


  • We are ingesting microplastics with food and water and even breathing tiny plastic fragments
  • It is best to avoid foods and drinks that are packaged in plastic
  • Use reusable non-plastic containers whenever possible

Recent studies have found that the amount of plastic ingested by us is alarming. A  Canadian study published in June 2019 found that humans ingest at least 50,000 plastic particles per year. An Australian study stated that the average human ingests 5g of plastic per week, or the equivalent of a credit card.

Health effects of plastics

Microplastics can cross the membrane protecting the brain from many foreign bodies that are in the bloodstream. Mothers can pass microplastics to a developing foetus. Microplastic particles also leach Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates and other chemicals which are linked to harmful health effects, including various cancers, a weakened immune system, reproductive problems, and more. Also, once these chemicals are inside us, even low doses have an effect.

Tips to Reduce Exposure to Plastic

Microplastics and other harmful chemicals found in plastic cannot be completely avoided as they are everywhere, even in household dust. The best step is to try to avoid foods and drinks that are packaged in plastic.

  1. Drink tap water: Drinking water is one of the biggest contributors to microplastic ingestion, but bottled water has about double the microplastic level of tap water. Avoid drinking plastic bottled water and other beverages.
  2. Don’t heat food in plastic: Plastics leach harmful chemicals into food when heated. Warm up food in a pan on the stove or oven and use glass containers to heat in a microwave.
  3. Avoid plastic food containers: The recycling codes ‘3’, ‘6’, and ‘7’ respectively indicate the presence of phthalates, styrene, and bisphenols. Therefore, avoid using containers that have these numbers in the recycling symbol on the bottom.
  4. Carry your food: Invest in good steel or glass containers to carry your food and beverage for work or going out.
  5. Eat more fresh food: Consuming fresh foods not packaged in plastics will reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. Many food cans lining are known to leach bisphenols, so are best avoided.
  6. Reusable grocery bags: Carry your own reusable cloth bags when buying groceries and avoid taking stuff in plastic bags.
  7. Avoid plastic cutlery and straws: Carry and use your own wash-and-reuse set of fork and spoons instead of plastic ones. Plastic straws are widely used, but could be easily replaced with paper or stainless steel ones. Select the option ‘don’t send cutlery’ while ordering food from delivery apps.
  8. Clean often to reduce household dust: The dust in our homes is full of toxic chemicals and microplastic bits from synthetic fabrics and furnishings. Vacuum clean regularly and choose to use natural fabrics and furnishings. Air purifiers may be useful as they help reduce indoor air pollution.

In a campaign to remove single-use plastics in the country, Government of India had proposed a nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups and straws from 2 October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The proposed ban on as many as six items included plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. However, the ban has been held off for the time being considering the economic slowdown.

Plastic production is expected to more than quadruple between 2015 and 2050, thereby increasing plastic contamination in the environment. As individuals and consumers, we should limit our personal exposure to these substances in the long run by opting for products packaged in glass instead of plastic, use reusable non-plastic containers whenever possible, and support policies limiting the use of single-use plastic.


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