It degrades slowly and contaminates the food or liquids in contact with the container. Here are some ways to prevent this…

The writer is an environmentalist and CEO of Krya, a company that deals in products for sustainable urban living. Mail her at hinduhabitat@gmail.com.

Green signal

In this series we will examine the perils of plastic from a health and environmental perspective. As always we will examine sustainable options available to us.

Plastic storage in kitchens

In the past, this column has examined the use of plastic and the challenges it throws up in the solid waste management context. However, it is time to scrutinize plastic from a health perspective especially when used to store, cook and dispense food. Four grades of plastic enter our homes – PET, HDPE, LDPE and PP and poly carbonate.

PET typically enters our homes in the form of soft drink bottles, or rigid containers. HDPE and LDPE are typically used in bags. PP is used in rigid containers. Plastic presents three challenges to the discerning urban home maker.

Due to constant exposure to heat and surfactants (detergents), sunlight and wear and tear, plastics degrade slowly. This degradation can contaminate the food or liquids in contact with the container and is a health hazard.

Bisphenol A or BPA is used in the synthesis of many products including PET based feeding bottles, sippy cups, sports equipment and medical devices. BPA based plastic is clear and tough, and epoxy resins using BPA are also used in the coating the inside of food and drink cans. At high dosage, BPA exhibits hormone-like properties and is also a known endocrine disrupter. There is also some concern on the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behaviour, and prostate gland function in foetuses, infants and young children based on a study done by the National Institute of Health and the Us FDA.

Plastic is a solid waste management nightmare. It takes over 500 years to completely degrade, and is found lurking everywhere not only polluting the planet but also endangering several lives.

What are my options?

Avoid BPA and if you must use plastic, ask for BPA- free plastic products. Don’t use plastic for products that require strong sterilisation and cleaning (baby bottles and sippy cups) or when thermal shock is involved (microwave or heating applications). When it comes to ready-to-eat food or liquid applications or even their storage, stay away from plastic.

If you must use plastic in your kitchen, use it only to store dry goods like flours. Treat these containers extremely gently and avoid using abrasive scrubbers or washing them extremely frequently. Do not use hot water and harsh chemicals to clean them and replace these containers every six months. With all the precautions that need to be taken every time you use plastic in your kitchen, it is worth examining better and safer alternatives which will form the rest of this series.