Questions about the environment weigh heavily on people’s minds these days. News of new disasters flood the airwaves. This year the United States was hit by a record 905 tornadoes by May 11, 2008. Statistics reveal that over the past decade the United States has recorded an average of 1270 tornadoes per year.

The American bee is disappearing and is expected to go extinct.

It’s not just our external environment that worries us. Recent published results on treated wastewater revealed contamination of antibiotics, birth control and chemicals used in the production of plastics.

Meanwhile, health conditions we cannot explain, including ADHD, autism and fibromyalgia, are on the rise. It is natural to ask whether environmental factors are at play here.

A major soft drink manufacturer recently jumped on the “green bandwagon” by announcing its line of recycled plastic clothing with the rPET® label. Its merchandise includes T-shirts, tote bags, caps, handbags and notebooks made from used plastic bottles that would otherwise have ended up in landfills.

“It’s a great use of recycled materials,” a company spokesperson advertised.

The giant of the sector is not alone in its offer of ecological products. In 2007, 328 new green products were launched compared to just five in 2002.

How ecological are recycled plastics?

Timothy J. Krupnik, writing for the Berkeley Ecology Center’s Recycling Department, explained that plastics are made from ethylene, which is a natural gas. Ethylene is released during the oil refining process. In this sense, plastics derive directly from crude oil, which is a non-renewable resource. The gas is mixed with a number of other additives, many of which are toxic, to produce the product.

PET soda bottles, for example, use lead barriers in the bottle structure. Due to the numerous chemicals added to these products, plastic manufacturing is an extremely toxic process. Compared to glass, the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) releases 100 times more toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Recycling plastics requires significant amounts of energy than glass. Glass can be reworked “as is” repeatedly from its original shape. The same is not true for PET, due to the many compounds that go into it.

If the soda giant really wanted to go “green”, going back to glass containers would be a better option.

By now we have all heard about the dangers of heating plastics. Dioxin bleeding has been a common topic on talk shows for several years.

But consider plasticizers, a group of chemicals that are used to soften plastic, shape it, and make it less rigid. Plasticizers contain phthalates, a toxic chemical material and known endocrine disruptor. Your endocrine system helps regulate your nervous, reproductive, and immune systems.

Phthalates (collectively monoethyl phthalate, monobutyl phthalate, monobenzyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate and benzyl butyl phthalate) can be ingested by the body when using plastic products as drinking or food storage containers.

Carbonated drinks, fatty foods, and heated plastic products cause these chemicals to leak from the packaging into the food or beverage product itself. When these chemicals migrate to the endocrine system, they mimic the body’s natural hormones. This confuses the endocrine system and leads to serious health disorders.

The University of North Carolina, Asheville, studied the ingestion of phthalates in modeling clay in 2004. The study found that phthalates enter the body through both heating (fumes) and residues on the skin. which should make you wonder if recycled clothes made of plastic are safe. In the same year, the European Union banned the use of plastic softeners in all toys and products intended for children under the age of three.

So far, studies on the absorption of these chemicals in the human body have focused on inhalation and consumption. We don’t know if body heat, for example, is enough to release harmful chemicals or if phthalates can be absorbed through the skin. We know that the temperature of the water in a shower is sufficient to release the toxins in vinyl shower curtains.

Consider what you don’t know before deciding to wear a product.

Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization operating in San Francisco, advises consumers:

o Use personal care products, detergents, cleaners and other products that do not contain “fragrance” in the ingredient list – “fragrance” commonly includes phthalate DEP.

o Avoid cooking or microwaving in plastic.

o Use a non-vinyl shower curtain.

o Use paints and other hobby products in well-ventilated areas.

o Give children wooden and other phthalate-free toys and do not let children chew on soft plastic toys.

o Healthcare professionals and patients can urge their medical facilities to reduce or eliminate the use of products containing phthalates.

o Avoid flexible PVC or vinyl plastic products. Some examples of these products include PVC patio furniture, vinyl raincoats, flexible PVC building materials, vinyl shower curtains, and PVC children’s or pet toys.

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