What do white glue, hula hoops and chewing gum have in common? They contain polyethylene, a lightweight plastic. If you’re surprised your gum might contain plastic, you are not alone – so we’ve uncovered the surprising plastic truth behind four common items that you didn’t know contained plastic.
The original chewing gum came from a traditional practice of chewing resins from trees. Now, gum is made with synthetic ingredients like polyisobutylene and butadiene-styrene rubber. These synthetic compounds can’t degrade in the environment and gum is a significant source of litter globally.
What to do about it: Several companies make gum without plastic. For alternatives to gum, try chewing on fennel seeds (commonly served after meals at Indian restaurants), mint leaves, cardamom pods, or cloves.
Some tea bags are made with a food-grade thermoplastic such as PVC or polypropylene. Not only does that have the potential to release millions of microplastics into your hot cuppa, it’s also not compostable.
What to do about it: Use a loose-leaf tea bag with a reusable infuser, or search for products that sell tea bags made of paper. Bring your own tea on outings and ask for hot water at the store.
Thermal papers, like receipts, contain BPA, which is a compound used to create plastic. BPA can mimic estrogen and may be carcinogenic. BPA found in receipts is found more than a million times more than what is in a plastic water bottle and since BPA in thermal paper is not bound by a polymer, it is more easily passed into the body through the skin. Yikes! In Canada it is illegal to manufacture, import, advertise or sell baby bottles that contain BPA. But as for adults, Health Canada reports that it is gathering information to inform future action on bisphenol substances.
What to do about it: Thankfully, digital receipts are becoming common – request one whenever you can. Push for companies to label their receipts if they contain BPA. If you do need to take a receipt, you could carry a ziploc to keep your receipts away from your other items.
Where there’s plastic, there will be microplastic – and this is especially true of the ocean. Sea salt is made from evaporating pools of seawater, leaving behind salt crystals and, yes, little plastic pieces too.
What to do about it: Not much. Thankfully, the health risks of microplastics in salt are negligible: one study suggests that at most a person would consume 37 microplastic particles per year from salt – for comparison, a person’s average annual consumption is between 39-52,000 particles.
There is more we can do to make our voices heard. Vote, pressure companies to make changes, and spend wisely on sustainable brands. These are all things we can do every day to reduce our dependence on plastic.
~Andrea and Shauna