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Disposable vs. Reusable Plastics 

Not all plastic is created equal
By Bernadette Simpson 


The Don’t Mess With Dahab blog focuses on reducing the amount of single-use or disposable plastic we use, the plastic that is manufactured so we can use it for a few minutes or even just a few seconds before we discard it. Today, we’ll learn a bit more about the problems associated with plastic.


According to the company reuseit.com, whose products promote more sensible, conscious consumption of disposables:


  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide.
  • About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
  • Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.


One of the biggest problems is that this plastic will NEVER go away. It will always be around in our environment. Plastic does not biodegrade; it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Each and every piece of plastic ever made it still around today – somewhere, in some form.


Let’s read that again: Plastic never goes away. Every piece of plastic you have ever used in your life is still lurking somewhere on our planet.


And while it’s around, plastics leak toxic chemicals into our food, soil, and water causing illness and death in humans and wildlife. Stephen Musson, a safety, health, and environmental program manager at the US Environmental Protection Agency, explained for National Geographic  (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/Bisphenol_A)


“Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound used to create polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins…and are found in an enormous range of products, including food and drink containers. Research has shown that BPA mimics estrogen, a naturally occurring hormone, and therefore can affect the body’s endocrine system. BPA’s effects are often most pronounced when humans are in stages of rapid development, such as in the womb or during childhood. Laboratory studies conducted since the 1990s have noted that low-dose BPA exposure may be connected to abnormal penis development in males, early sexual maturation in females, an increase in neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, an increase in childhood and adult obesity and type 2 diabetes, and an increase in hormonally mediated cancers, such as prostate and breast cancers.”



Another good place to start is by reading Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Basic Concepts about Plastic 


Reusable Plastics


In this blog, I will often suggest replacing single-use plastics with reusable plastic containers. It is important to note, however, that recent research shows that some of the plastics we like to reuse also have health problems associated with them.


Plastic food containers are labeled with a number that indicates their type of plastic. The safest ones to REUSE are #2, 4, and 5 and you should AVOID reusing #3, 6, and 7. Taking a quick look at the boxes I reuse – dairy product containers made by Juhayna – I noticed they are all #5.


Safe and Unsafe Plastics


Ideally though, we would all have glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers to use. But we don’t. Read the articles linked above, do your own research, and then decide whether or not you want to use plastic at all for storing foods. If you want to avoid all plastic, you’ll have to find or invest in some other containers. You can REUSE the glass jars that olives, jam, etc. come in or check the second-hand markets in town and online. For me personally, for now I am using what I have – a range of plastic, glass, and stainless steel containers. I avoid the plastic containers for hot foods but perhaps need to rethink the use of the plastic containers in general.


So if you’re lucky enough to have some glass or stainless steel containers, that’s great! Please use them for food instead of reusable plastic ones. You’ll be protecting your health.


To learn more about different types of plastics and the related health risks, I recommend the following sites:

Plastics Not to Reuse

Are Plastic Food Containers Too Toxic to Reuse?

The Trouble With Tupperware

Study: Most Plastics Leach Hormone-Like Chemicals



Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle


Bernadette Simpson is the author of the field guide Wandering through Wadis: A nature-lover’s guide to the flora of South Sinai and An ABC Escapade through Egypt. To learn more about her campaign to reduce disposable plastic, visit Don’t Mess with Dahab at:


Don’t Mess with Dahab

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