by Robin Thomas

Plastics and microplastics have polluted the entire planet, from Arctic snow and Alpine soils to the deepest oceans. People are also known to consume them via food and water, and to breathe them in, but the complete impact on human health is not yet known.

Take a look around your house and you’ll easily spot dozens of items that contain plastic: carpet fiber, clothing, grocery bags and miscellaneous containers. Plastic has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. But it also has the potential to compromise our health. 

Toxic Chemicals in Plastics

Most of us have plastic containers in our kitchen for food preparation and storage. They are convenient and seem to be indestructible. The problem is that most plastic products contain toxic chemicals that leach out during common use. Heating and microwaving, repeated washing with harsh detergents in dishwashers, scratching or cracking, and prolonged contact with fatty foods and oils will damage plastic enough to allow this leaching of dangerous chemicals into the foods we eat. 

Many of the chemicals in plastic products have structural similarities to the hormones that provide communication throughout the human body. Called endocrine disruptors, these chemicals can alter the body’s hormone system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immunological effects. These synthetic compounds are sending messages to us, but when our cells receive the information, they are confused, and as a result, cellular function is distorted. 

Plastics in Our World

If not recycled or disposed of properly (which is most of the time) plastic ends up in our waterways, degrading so slowly that there are massive ‘plastic islands’ floating in the world’s oceans. This plastic gradually breaks up into microscopic particles, ending up in the marine food chain, and ultimately in us. Studies show that people eat and breathe in at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year. These microplastic particles have been found likely to accumulate in lung, liver, spleen and kidney tissue. 

Small Changes Make a Difference

By eliminating many of the plastic containers that we use every day in our kitchens and throughout our homes, we can reduce the exposure to ourselves as well as the world around us. 

There’s been a lot of talk around BPA plastic in baby bottles and water bottles. Canned foods are frequently lined with BPA also. Manufacturers have begun offering “BPA free” bottles. Unfortunately, BPA alternatives show their own health risks. Change out those bottles with glass, stainless steel, or silicon. Use glass containers to store food, or when heating in a microwave. I find that simple mason jars are quite versatile for storing beans, nuts, and vegetable sticks as well as my smoothies. I also love using some of the utilitarian pottery made right here in North Carolina. 

By making small changes in what products you use, you can make a positive difference in your health and the health of our world.

Robin Thomas worked for 25 years in Medical Research at UNC studying inflammation in chronic and autoimmune diseases. In 2015, she founded Living Well Connections, a community for people whose passion is healthy living, in 2015. Learn more at