Plastic. We all know it’s bad news, but as far as vices go, our addiction to the multipurpose, lightweight, water-resistant material is about as intense as our love affair with sugar. So enamored are we with one-time-use bottles, water-resistant packaging and cheap, easy-come-easy-go cultural artifacts that we gamely consume and dispose of them at a record rate. This magnetic attraction to the petroleum-derived material has resulted in countless post-consumer polyethylene and polypropylene bits and pieces such as industrial resin pellets and other tiny plastic fragments infiltrating numerous natural ecosystems, the most troubling of them being our global subtropical oceanic gyres.

styrofoam cup recycling
Polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, is produced using several known carcinogens. 
If you think that’s worrisome, imagine what marine scientists must be thinking. There is not an easy fix, particularly because this manmade, chemical-leaching slurry — ranging from plankton-sized plastic particulates to far more visible quarter-inch pieces — is so entirely pervasive. As of yet, no one has figured out how to safely remove this blatant hallmark of our disposable culture, and with so many mitigating factors at play, time will only tell if there is indeed an ideal solution that can spare marine life. Beyond the obvious physical signs of our plastic pollution problem, there is also a ticking chemical time bomb at play since the material has been proven to leach chemicals into seawater. Countless oceanic species are not only living in tainted H2O, but also inadvertently ingesting plastic fragments, which means that if you are a seafood fan, you too are ultimately dining on plastic. Eager to detoxify your life? Here’s how to make better, more informed consumer choices. Seeking out alternatives to popular plastic staples (such as glass and stainless steel containers, for example) can be the first line of defense, but when that isn’t practical, make a point of at least avoiding the follow three plastic materials, which unfortunately, are found in a wide range of readily available consumer items.

Polyvinyl chloride

You probably recognize this white or opaque solid thermoplastic polymer by its street name, PVC, or plastic #3, and when it’s not wrapped around your peanut butter, it is the key ingredient necessary to make food wrap, IV bags, vinyl blinds, credit cards, window frames, detergent bottles, pens, water pipes, shower curtains, flooring, rain gutters and squeeze-type containers. Thanks to its dirt-cheap cost and easy manipulability, it is the third most frequently produced plastic in the world, which isn’t exactly a good thing. Throughout its entire lifespan, chlorine-laden, nonbiodegradable PVC releases persistent dioxins into the atmosphere, water and soil. Yes, even while occupying prime real estate in landfills. Even more concerning is the fact that this material commonly contains plastic-softening, hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates that are directly linked to birth defects and reproductive issues.


Those in the know refer to this foam plastic — used for toys, cups, clamshell food storage/restaurant take-away containers, disposable cutlery, packaging insulation, meat trays, etc. — as #6 PS or Styrofoam (its trade moniker). In order to create it, several EPA-classified human carcinogens must be employed, including the reproductive and central nervous system toxin styrene as well as central nervous system-/cardiovascular-compromising and cancer-triggering 1,3-butadiene. When polystyrene containers are heated, the styrene can leach into food, particularly in the presence of fat and/or alcohol. Styrene can also be found in a bevy of common household products such as metal cleaner, floor wax/polish, adhesives and carpeting.


Requiring copious amounts of chemical solvents such as carcinogenic chloroform and methylene chloride during its manufacture, this easily morphing #7 plastic material can be found in everything from thicker-gauge reusable 5-gallon water and milk containers to compact discs, pizza boxes, dental sealants, baby bottles, portable water bottles, thermal paper receipts and the interior of countless varieties of canned goods. There is good reason why, in the last several years, news headlines have been abuzz over the connection between polycarbonate containers and the presence of bisphenol A. It turns out that the chemical is a notorious endocrine disruptor that can trigger everything from sexual development abnormalities and cancer of the prostate/breast to heart disease and obesity.