4 Ways to Eat Less Plastic

Public Domain. Unsplash / Hal Gatewood

Yes, there's far more plastic in your food than you realize.

With all the plastic polluting the environment, it makes sense that plastic would be making its way into our food, too. Several recent studies have attempted to quantify just how much plastic we're ingesting and the results are alarming.

A Canadian study published in June 2019 found that humans ingest at least 50,000 plastic particles per year, and that's probably an underestimate; the research only looked at 15 percent of foods in a typical diet. An Australian study offers another disturbing perspective, stating that the average human ingests 5g of plastic per week, or the equivalent of a credit card.

This leads to the obvious question: 'How do I eat less plastic?' While it's impossible to eliminate plastic entirely from our diets – welcome to the modern world! – there are steps one can take to reduce ingestion. Consumer Reports has put together a list of six small steps, some of which I'd like to share below, along with my own suggestions.

1. Drink tap water.

The Canadian study mentioned above found that bottled water drinkers took in 90,000 additional microplastic particles per year, compared to tap water drinkers, who only ingested an extra 4,000 particles. So this is a no-brainer; skip the plastic bottled beverages of all kinds – water, soda, juice, kombucha, you name it.

2. Avoid plastic packaging.

This is a tall order, one that's nearly impossible to implement 100 percent of the time, but it's worth striving for. If you can buy loose products instead of Styrofoam tray-and-plastic-wrapped produce, do that. If you can take your jars and containers to a bulk store for plastic-free refills, do that. If you can choose a glass jar of honey or peanut butter over a plastic one, go for it.

Consumer Reports suggests avoiding specific types of plastic packaging. Those with the numbers 3, 6, or 7 on the bottom "respectively indicate the presence of phthalates, styrene, and bisphenols — so you may want to avoid using [them]."

3. Don't heat food in plastic.

Plastic and heat are not meant to mix, as it can cause the plastic to leach chemicals (and microparticles) into food. If you store food in plastic, transfer it to glass or ceramic before microwaving or heat it on the stove. Consumer Reports points out that the American Academy of Pediatrics "also recommends not putting plastic into your dishwasher" – a suggestion that's bound to strike horror into the hearts of many parents, but makes sense.

4. Do more housecleaning.

The dust in our homes is full of toxic chemicals and microplastic bits. Researchers say it comes from synthetic furnishings and fabrics breaking down over time and binding to household dust, which then rain down on our food. Make a point of vacuuming regularly and choose natural fabrics and home furnishings whenever possible.

This list is far from comprehensive, of course, but it's a good place to start thinking about this issue.