Green Living Tips: Glass Containers

I’ve been a little remiss on posting my green Thursday tips.  I do try to live green and it’s important to me, so I’m bringing them back.  Maybe not necessarily on Thursdays, and not necessarily every week, but they’ll be here more often again.  This week’s topic, glass.

If you’re like me, you save the plastic containers that your food comes in to reuse for  storage.  I’m all for re-using things instead of buying new things, especially new plastic things.  But reducing is even better.   I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use by choosing glass instead and saving my glass containers for storage.  I have quite a little glass container collection going.

What’s So Bad About Plastic Anyway?

We’ve all heard plastic is bad for the environment and bad for our health.   Here are the specifics as to the badness.  Plastic is made using petroleum, a non-renewable resource.  The production of plastics is a major source of environmental pollution.

According to The Green Guide, “producing a 16-oz. #1 PET bottle, for instance, generates more than 100 times the toxic emissions to air and water than making the same size bottle out of glass. Major emissions from plastic production processes include sulfur oxides and nitrous oxides (both of which contribute to global warming) and the chemicals styrene, benzene and trichloroethane.”

Plastic does not biodegrade.  Period.  Once it’s made, it’s with us forever.  It will eventually break apart into particles that are then scattered through the air and water and eaten by birds and fish.  (And then, we eat the birds and fish.)

There are also health concerns about plastics leaching chemicals into the food they contain.  This is especially true of acidic foods like tomato sauce.    BPA is an example of one of those chemicals.  That’s the chemical that caused so much concern when it was found in baby bottles.  Plastics labeled number 7 contain BPA.

Switching to Glass

I try to choose glass whenever I can.  Mostly it’s for food items.  And I’ve started washing and saving them instead of just recycling.    I’m choosing glass whenever possible at the grocery store.  I’ve found quite a few vegetables that I used to buy in cans in jars instead.  I’m also looking for beauty products that come in glass containers instead of plastic.  I use the glass to store a lot of my homemade beauty products.  They’re also great for craft items, buttons, and storing bulk food items like flour, sugar, or noodles.  I’m planning on making a couple of gifts this year and decorating some jars with paints.  If I were buying baby bottles, I would be trying glass also.

I’ve not had problems with breakage so far.  With three little girls in the house, I keep the glass out of reach of course, but I haven’t had any shattered glass so far.

What If You Can’t Find Glass Alternatives

Try to choose safer plastics if you have to buy it.  Those numbers on the bottom of the containers inside the recycle symbols are indicative of the chemicals used to make the plastic.  The safer alternatives are #1, #2, #4, and #5.  Try to avoid number 3 (polyvinyl chl0ride) which contain phthalates, can leach lead, and can off-gas toxic chemicals.  It’s used in cling wrap, salad dressing bottles, and shower curtains.   Number 6 (polystyrene) which can leach styrene, a carcinogen.  It’s found in meat containers and foam cups/plates.   Number 7 is includes the plastics that contain BPA.  Number 7 is a catch-all category, so it includes the new plant-based, biodegradable plastics.  Avoid the BPA ones, but the plant based are probably safe.

If you do use plastic, recycle it when it starts to get worn or damaged.  That’s when it’s most likely to be leaching nasty stuff into your food.

Conscious Consumerism

Just like all green living ideas, it boils down to intentional, conscious consumerism.   There are choices out there.  Sometimes they’re harder to find, sometimes they’re a little more expensive.  When you make the decision to choose a greener alternative, it sends a message to the manufacturers that it matters what materials they use.  Choosing glass over plastic is an easy step to take.

Do you buy alternatives to plastic?  Do you have a glass container collection?  What do you re-use your glass for?


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About Jessica Anne

5 Responses to “Green Living Tips: Glass Containers”

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  1. Sofia's Ideas
    Twitter: SofiasIdeas
    says:

    Yes! Yes! and Yes! :)

    We use smaller jars as drinking glasses, leftover food storage, holding our homemade beauty concoctions. Medium jars for crafting & decorating, homeschooling, etc. Large jars (pickle jars from our local sub shop) to hold our bulk food from Whole Foods Market.

    We very rarely recycle the glass now!

  2. Priscilla says:

    No authoritative or regulatory body anywhere in the world classifies styrene to be a known cause of human cancer. Moreover, a study conducted by a “blue ribbon” panel of epidemiologists and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (November 2009) reports: “The evidence of human carcinogenicity of styrene is inconsistent and weak. On the basis of the available evidence, one cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between styrene and any type of human cancer.” Further, polystyrene containers for food have been used safely for more than 50 years, having been tested and deemed safe by government agencies. Any minuscule amount of styrene that may migrate out of polystyrene containers into food is far too small to be of any health concern.

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC (www.styrene.org) is a trade association representing interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      I appreciate the contrasting view point, and that you clearly identified yourself as associated with the styrene industry.

      I would argue, however, any study that could definitively prove a link to cancer in humans would be unethical to perform. To me, the statement, “based on available evidence” indicates those studies don’t exist. A few years ago, we thought BPA was safe as well. Just because we’ve been using something for 50 years does not make it safe.

      The International Agency on Research on Cancer classifies styrene as a potential carcinogen and the EPA is still reviewing its classification as a carcinogen. Known health effects of styrene include effects on the central nervous system, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. If I had an agenda, I would neglect to mention those effects are to workers who manufacture styrene, not the everyday consumer.

      Even if you negate the carcinogen aspect, styrene and other plastics are not biodegradable and cause environmental pollution by their production. That’s enough of a reason for me to to decrease my plastic consumption when safer alternatives, like glass, exist.

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