You want to provide your family with the best choices possible, especially when it comes to health. It is important to ask questions about the objects you use on a day-to-day basis, such as where things come from and how they are produced. Paper plates are no exception. The convenience of this disposable dishware has been around for decades, but when was the last time you researched the manufacturing process of paper plates? Toxins and chemicals do exist in paper plates, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polystyrene and dioxin. Most chemicals are added during the production process, such as in bleaching paper white.
Volatile organic compounds are found in many things from paint to paper plates. VOCs are gasses that are released from things such as the paint on the walls in your home or even your office printer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs can cause both short- and long-term health consequences. The EPA also states that its “Office of Research and Development’s “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study” (Volumes I through IV, completed in 1985) found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial area.” It also notes that these compounds can remain inside your home long after the initial off-gassing. VOCs cause a number of health problems that include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, damage to the liver and kidneys and nausea.
According to the American Chemistry Council, styrene is derived from petroleum and is the main raw component in making polystyrene. The EPA and Styrene Information and Research Center say this chemical is not toxic when exposed in small amounts. However, petroleum is not a renewable resource and there is its effect on the environment to consider, as well.
Dioxin is a chemical used to bleach wood pulp, which is a large component of paper plates. Dioxin and the closely related chemical furan make up a group of chlorinated compounds considered by the EPA to be one of the most dangerous chemicals to the environment. According to an article in Science News, “EPA’s David Cleverly told Science News, ‘We’ve estimated that the air emissions [of dioxins and furans from U.S. municipal-waste incinerators] contribute from two to 40 cancer cases per year’.”
Dioxin and Health Effects
Health Canada considers dioxin to be a toxic chemical and recognizes its relation to a number of adverse reactions in lab studies using animals. However, this governing body does note “the type and occurrence of these effects typically depend on the level and duration of exposure.” Such adverse health reactions can include skin disorders, problems with the liver, developmental effects, impairment of immune and endocrine systems, reproduction impairment and certain cancers. Though it is also noted that the extent of these reactions depend on factors such as level of exposure and general health.
Eco-Friendly Paper Plates
You can purchase environmentally-friendly paper plates. Look for labels on packaging that denote material having been recycled or reused, such as "Post-Consumer Material," "De-Inked Material," and "Post-Mill Material." It is also possible to find chlorine- and bleach-free paper products, which are better for your health and the environment. Hemp, bamboo and other agriculture-based fibers are also alternatives to using paper products.