Alternatives to plastic bagsDo you wash and re-use your plastic food storage bags?

I do. I’m sure I’m not the only one, either.

Admittedly, it’s a pain to do. A part of me hates going to all that time and trouble, but then the thrifty penny-pincher and environmentally-conscious part of me won’t let me just throw them out.

First of all, they’re expensive, and until recently I’ve used a lot of them every day for storing everything from lunches to leftovers.

It seems so wasteful to just throw them away after just one use, not to mention the hundreds of years it will take for them to break down in a landfill – if ever. Incinerating them releases toxic gasses into the environment, and rampant ocean-dumping of plastics is reportedly poisoning sea life.

Hidden Health Concerns About Plastics

Then there are the human health considerations of using them in the first place. The type of plastic such bags are made of – Bisphenol A (BPA) – is leaching into and accumulating in our water.  BPA plastics are also used to line most cans.

The effects of environmental exposure to or consuming BPA may include effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. Some research suggests a possible link between BPA exposure and increased blood pressure. Other studies have linked BPA exposure to breast cancer, early puberty, heart disease, infertility (in both men and women), and obesity.

A more recent, allegedly “safer” BPA-free replacement plastic type called Fluorine-9-bisphenol (BHPF) is now believed to be contributing to our exposure of estrogen-like compounds, which is messing with the estrogen levels of both women AND men, with increasingly serious results. Like BPA, BHPF is also dissolving into and accumulating in our water.

Jianying Hu of Peking University in Beijing, China and his colleagues have tested the effects of BHPF in mice.  The exposure to BHPF caused the mice to have smaller wombs, deliver smaller babies, and have more miscarriages than mice not exposed to BHPF.

Obviously mice are not people, but until more testing is done do you seriously want to experiment on yourself?

“BPA-Free” Does Not Mean Safer

Hu’s research team also tested BPA-free plastic bottles to determine the rate of chemical dissolution into the water inside them.

Not only were measurable amounts of chemical compounds leaching into the water, but the warmer the water in the bottle the quicker the release of the compounds.

How many times have you left a “BPA-free” bottle of water out in your car in the hot sun, or used  a “BPA-free” plastic bag with other food or ingredient?

Probably right now in your cupboard or freezer there are foods or ingredients stored in “BPA-free” plastic bags or containers, that have been in those containers for many months or even years. How many chemical estrogen-like compounds have leached into the food you will eventually put into your mouth, over that period of time?

It’s a Plastic World

You name it, EVERYTHING today is being packaged in plastic.

I’ve even seen bags of “organic” cauliflower (and other frozen vegetables) that are packaged to go right into the microwave for reheating. And what does heating food in plastic do? That’s right, it speeds the release of plastic compounds into the food!

So much for the “healthy, chemical-free” aspects of “organic”.

Never mind the disastrous effects of microwave exposure for you, not to mention your food! (I’ll talk about that another day – don’t get me started!)

Back to Hu’s study.  Of 52 plastic items tested, including three brands of baby bottles, 23 were found to be releasing measurable amounts of chemical compounds into the water they were in contact with during the length of the study.

What Exposure is “Safe”?

The US Food & Drug Administration in it’s benevolent and never-to-be-questioned wisdom has established what it considers “safe” and acceptable levels of BPA to found in food and water. (Levels which do not take into account the accumulation and buildup of ingested chemical toxins in the body over time).

I personally think such a determination is a bit of a joke, and even the FDA has punted on establishing similar standards for BHPF, saying that it is “much too early”, and that more research is needed.

Yet with just the one study by Hu’s team, it seems rather clear that there is a large probability for concerns regarding the effects of estrogen compounds from so-called “safer” BHPF plastics, and the effects those compounds are having on our body’s hormonal balances.

It seems like a lot of the technological advances in chemicals and petro-chemical products (plastics) that have been considered “safe” by one generation, leads to side effects that current and future generations are or will have to deal with.

Like Doctor Frankenstein, we seem to want to play God … yet always with unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Alternatives to Plastic Storage Bags

This brings me back to the cleaning and re-using of plastic storage bags.

Plastic storage bags are a convenience, whether or not you clean and re-use them.

But having now researched this topic, I say enough is enough! This is a health issue, and for the sake of my and my family’s health, I need to change my habits of convenience.

Contrary to what we’ve been told over the last 80 years or so, plastics are NOT as safe as we’ve been programmed to believe.

There are some wonderful options for food storage that your great-great grandmother would have been familiar with, and happily are still widely (and inexpensively) available today.

I am of course talking about the venerable Mason, Kerr, or Ball storage jar.  They’re not just for canning, anymore!

While most canning jars today are all made by the same company under the old familiar brand names, there are glass storage jars made in just about every shape and size you may need. There really is no reason to use plastic containers.

When You HAVE To Use Plastic

When a plastic container is the best and most convenient option, invest in some good quality, heavy duty hard plastic containers that are designed and meant to be re-used.

Sure, they will be more expensive than the cheap, disposable-quality plastic bags and containers that are meant to be  used once and then thrown away, but like the glass jars, they will last you for many, many years, and will pay for themselves many times over.

If breakage is a concern, there are rubberized encasements that you can slip over glass jars that will protect them from the occasional bump or drop.  When I am traveling where the chances for accidental breakage are higher, I will use a good quality heavy duty hard plastic container as mentioned above.

When using plastic to store food (for as brief a time as possible), keep them in a cooler with a cold pack.  (Remember that heat speeds up the transfer of plastic compounds to the container’s contents).

Cooking and Freezing Foods

Never heat or re-heat food in a plastic container or bag. I don’t care what the instructions say. Cook or heat foods on your stove-top or in your oven, with an appropriate pan or kettle.

If you simply MUST use a microwave, transfer the food to a glass or microwave-save ceramic bowl or dish. Cover with a paper towel to prevent splatter.

One of the attractions to using plastic bags or wrap in the freezer, is that it flexes to accommodate the expansion that occurs when something is frozen (something you should remember from your high school chemistry class).

I successfully use glass containers to freeze things like maple water (which I wrote about in a previous post), bone broth and soup.  The trick is to never fill the liquid past the shoulder line on the jar. This leaves sufficient room for expansion. (I have on occasion gotten greedy for space and have overfilled a jar, and have learned my lesson!)

Wrapping Sandwiches

For storing sandwiches for lunches there is no reason for a plastic bag.  You can easily go “old school” and use waxed paper to wrap your sandwich. They even (still) make sandwich-sized paper bags with a slight wax film to make this even easier. Just use a little piece of adhesive tape or masking tape to hold the end shut.

There are also hard plastic sandwich-size containers, that I also like. They can be a bit spendy, but really you only need one or two, and should last you for years of re-use.

Living the Non-Plastic Lifestyle

At this point I have converted at least 95% of my long-term and short-term food storage to glass containers, with a few exceptions using a hard plastic container.

I am writing this now in the back of our van on a small road trip with our new four-month old pup.  I had to pack a breakfast and lunch and am happy how well we have been able to move out of the plastic realm.

I’ve had to teach and train my son on being a bit more careful in using his storage containers, but I explain to him why we are doing this. It’s not just about reducing or eliminating plastic from our waste stream for the future problems those will create for our future generations. It’s also for the effects of plastic on our own health.

BPA plastics have been used for decades in food storage, until problems were found. More recently, “BPA-free” has become all the rage, even though the effects of the “safer” BHPF are still as yet largely unknown – but suspected, with some research to back up the concerns.

I really believe that we will continue to find health issues related to BHPF that will extend beyond the effects of exposure to even the estrogen-like compounds, which are already creating so much hormonal havoc in both women and men, and our children. We will likely be learning and dealing more and more with these “unforeseen and unintended consequences” for years to come.

Living Smart & Healthy

I pray the Lord God help us to be diligent in our ways of food storage, giving us wisdom and perseverance for the long haul.

Some storage options – like plastic bags – may seems easy and convenient at the time, but the consequences are likely to be long term and will haunt us forever.

May God also help us find the wisdom to understand that while He gave us the drive to constantly innovate, discover, and improve our early existence – that sometimes the old ways are just fine.

Just think. Glass jars have been around a long time. They can be cleaned, sterilized, AND recycled into new glass jars. Not all plastics can be recycled, and none can be recycled for food storage purposes.

Serving for the hopes of eternity near, those who are in Christ Jesus will rise for eternity.