Nine steps to a healthier, greener household

Common food packaging contains many harmful chemicals.
Common food packaging contains many harmful chemicals. 

It is becoming more and more apparent that substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates are a potential danger to ourselves and especially our children.

While many governments, including in Australia, are beginning to ban BPA in things such as babies bottles, the fact remains that these substances are in a huge range of products, not just bottles. It can seem totally overwhelming if you start thinking about how to avoid them, to the point you feel like giving up and just forgetting about it all. But there are steps you can take to at least cut down on the amount of BPA and Phthalates your household is exposed to. Here are nine steps – five relatively easy, and four that might be a bit more of a challenge, but well worth considering – that you can take to start eliminating BPA and Phthalates from your life.

Don’t heat food in plastic containers – it’s all too easy to take last night’s take-away and heat it up in the microwave in the plastic containers it came in. But various studies on BPA have shown that heat, such as heating a container in a microwave, can lead to BPA leaching out of containers in to food. Play it safe and if you are going to re-heat food in the microwave, use a glass or ceramic container.

Don’t use hairspray – Almost all hairspray is the equivalent of spraying plastic on your hair. Not nice. And the phthalates found in most hairsprays can be absorbed through your scalp and inhaled. Oh, and the artificial fragrances used in hairsprays, they are full of phthalates too. Try making your own hairspray out of vodka (mix one cup of water, 1 tbsp of vodka and 4 tbsp of lemon juice. Mix and put in a spray bottle. Stored in the fridge, it should last for about a month).

Don't use baby bottles containing BPA - this might seem like a no-brainer now that Australian retailers are beginning to phase out bottles containing the substance, but bottles handed down from a sibling, or on shelf right now, could still contain BPA. EB members have compiled a list of brands which are BPA-free.

Stop using air fresheners – Those things are nasty: they usually end up making rooms smell a bit weird, give people headaches and are generally not needed. And almost all of them are made with phthalates and other really unpleasant chemical compounds. Similar story for candles made with chemical scents (choose bees-wax or soy candles instead). Make your own pot-pourri with natural essential oils, or just try opening the window – it’s often just as effective as plugging in an ‘air freshener’ (which don’t really freshen the air anyway!)
Get rid of your PVC shower curtain – most shower curtains are made with PVC, which is softened with phthalates. Try a cotton or hemp shower curtain (a fabric shower curtain can be more effective than you probably imagine!) or try places like Ikea for a PEVA shower curtain instead.


AND A BIT HARDER...

Avoid your car – okay, this is going to be hard for most people. But much of the plastic in your car (for example, the dashboard) is full of BPA and phthalates. While there are no studies to show how exposure from being in a car affects passengers, some people argue that it is better safe than sorry. At the very least, if you get your car commercially cleaned, avoid any fragrances on offer (see below about fragrances).

Avoid plastic packaging – another hard one, as almost everything comes in plastic! But as well as the environmental damage from plastic, it contributes to oil dependency (you did know plastic was made from oil, right?) and much if not most packaging contains BPA and phthalates.

Avoid as much food packaging as possible – unfortunately it is not just plastic packaging that has potentially toxic materials – it is also found in cans and other containers (the lining of cardboard boxes that make them leak proof? There is a reason they are leak proof, and the compounds used to make that lining are being investigated in various countries as they are believed to be potential carcinogens). Try to avoid individually wrapped items, and buy fresh produce rather than processed food wherever possible.

Avoid artificial fragrances – this one might seem easy, but it’s really very difficult for most people. Almost everything in your bathroom, from the soap and shampoo to make-up, cleaning products and shaving cream, is almost guaranteed to have artificial fragrances in it.  Almost all cleaning products, lotions, creams and cosmetics now have artificial fragrances in them, and as well as setting off allergic reactions in a lot of people, those fragrances are full of phthalates and often other compounds you probably want to avoid. As well as being potentially harmful to human life, studies have shown that things like artificial musk (which is widely used) is highly damaging to many other organisms. While it may seem difficult at first, avoiding these things is possible. Try to clean as much as possible with simple products like vinegar, bi-carb of soda and lemon juice (the internet is full of tips on how to go about this). Companies such as Lush sell products that are better for you and the environment, and usually smell as good if not better than the artificial fragrances you might be used to.

At first, avoiding things like BPA and phthalates can seem overwhelming. But by being just a little more mindful about the products we purchase and use, we can reduce the exposure to these harmful products that our households, and families are currently enduring. And who knows – a little thought today could end up being something we are extremely thankful for in the future.

Natalia Forrest is a UK based writer and researcher with an interest in incorporating ethical and sustainable practices in to everyday life. She is the mother of a six year old.

Try making your own hairspray out of vodka