Going Green with Vintage Glassware (like Glasbake!)
By Barbara E. Mauzy
My first career was elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree as a Reading Specialist certified for grades one through twelve. As years in the classroom passed, I watched the Autism rate for American children change from one in every five hundred children to one in every one hundred twenty-five or one in every one hundred twenty depending on which research study is sited. Mainstream media has finally come to acknowledge this crisis and after decades of denial, Autism is openly discussed. Back in the 1970s I had already come to my own conclusions: the explosive increase in the use of plastics must hold a connection to the devastating loss of our children to Autism.
Today an Internet search will reveal that researchers are starting to take a serious look at plastics and other environmental issues as they relate to Autism. From WebMD, January 8, 2009: “Environmental factors may be partly behind California's eightfold rise in new cases, a new study implies…Hertz-Picciotto notes that the lion's share of autism funding is going to genetic studies. She argues that it's high time more effort was put into looking for environmental factors that cause autism in genetically susceptible individuals.”
Why do I personally focus on plastics and Autism? I actually believe the negative impact of plastics goes beyond the scourge of this disease and into many arenas of our health. Take a look at the recycling numbers found on plastics. These digits represent discrete chemical cocktails that when exposed to food even the American Chemical Council admits will to some extent always leach into food. If plastics can be a delivery system to bring chemicals to living beings simply by being in contact with food (plastic storage containers, plastic wrap, Styrofoam meat trays, plastic drink bottles, etc.) imagine what chemicals our orally-fixated babies are exposed to when toys, nipples, waterproof books, and more are placed directly in their mouths.
So let’s take a brief look at these numbers:
• 1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Used to make soft drink, water, sports drink, ketchup, and salad dressing bottles, and peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars.
GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones thus far, but current research is conclusive that items with this number are for single use only.
• 2 High density polyethylene (HDPE)
Milk, water, and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash, and retail bags.
GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones thus far.
• 3 Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
Most cling-wrapped meats, cheeses, and other foods sold in delicatessens and groceries are wrapped in PVC.
BAD: To soften into its flexible form, manufacturers add “plasticizers” during production. Traces of these chemicals can leach out of PVC when in contact with foods. According to the National Institutes of Health, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), commonly found in PVC, is a suspected human carcinogen.
• 4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
Some bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles.
OK: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones, but not as widely recycled as #1 or #2.
• 5 Polypropylene (PP)
Some ketchup bottles and yogurt and margarine tubs.
OK: Hazardous during production, but not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Not as widely recycled as #1 and #2.
• 6 Polystyrene (PS)
Foam insulation and also for hard applications (e.g. cups, some toys)
BAD: Benzene (material used in production) is a known human carcinogen. Butadiene and styrene (the basic building block of the plastic) are suspected carcinogens. Energy intensive and poor recycling.
• 7 Other (usually polycarbonate)
Baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cans
BAD: Made with biphenyl-A, a chemical invented in the 1930s in search for synthetic estrogens. A hormone disruptor. Simulates the action of estrogen when tested in human breast cancer studies. Can leach into food as product ages.
Adapted from Green Remodeling, by David Johnston and Kim Master (New Society Publishers, 2004). (http://www.care2.com/greenliving/which-plastics-are-safe.html
Look carefully at the examples given for number7 plastics. Last March, the Environmental Working Group reported the results of a study in which a national analytical laboratory tested 97 cans of food for BPA – number 7, and concluded that cans of chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had the highest BPA levels due to the plastic liner now found adhered to the inside these cans. We are making our children, who are most susceptible to the dangers of chemicals, sick. One in three cans of infant formula had BPA levels 200 times the government's traditional safe level of exposure for BPA.
On April 19, 2008 The Canadian government moved to ban polycarbonate infant bottles, the most popular variety on the market, after it officially declared one of their chemical ingredients to be toxic. Plastic baby bottles have been banned in many parts of the world, but not in the US.
Let’s not forget the potential danger of using plastic bottles for water. According to the Clean Air Council, Americans discard 2,500,000 bottles every hour. We are filling up our landfills at an alarming rate, assuming the bottles aren’t simply being thrown out as litter. For a safe, green alternative, consider using a stainless steel drinking bottle.
Certainly you must have smelled the strong odor associated with a new shower curtain or shower curtain liner. What you are actually smelling and breathing in is a cocktail of up to 108 chemical compounds that are out-gassing. Seven chemicals, which include toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, methyl isobutyl ketone, xylene, acetophenone and cumene, have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as hazardous air pollutants, according to Stephen Lester, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice's science director and a co-author of a report indicating the connection of human health to new shower curtains. Potential health effects included developmental damage, harm to the liver and the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems. The study also found that the shower curtains contained high concentrations of phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive effects. (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2004474448_vinyl13.html
Why talk about shower curtains in conjunction with safe food handling? It is those phthalates in shower curtains that make them flexible, and phthalates in plastic food wraps make them flexible, too, and potentially dangerous as they touch our food and leach into it.
My contention is: keep your food away from plastic; we are just beginning to learn what these chemicals have been doing to our bodies and especially our children. Even though several numbers shown above are deemed OK or safe, I suggest that in the future more will be revealed to indicate that all seven numbers are simply hazardous to humans in regard to safe food handling.
We have many safe alternatives, and these represent that best of what being green actually means: reuse. Vintage (and contemporary, but let’s use what’s already here!) glass offers great solutions, and the impervious nature of glass will keep it from leaching chemicals into your foods. Companies like Jeannette, Federal, and McKee produced colorful glassware that is perfect for storing and serving: refrigerator dishes, storage jars, canisters, shakers, and so on. These pieces are here now and have been for decades; they are not being produced in Chinese factories that belch pollutants into Earth’s atmosphere.
It is important to note that if you are interested in glassware that can be used in the oven or microwave, select pieces that were tempered and therefore can easily tolerate extreme temperature changes. For glassware that meets this standard utilize PYREX, Glasbake (McKee’s version of ovenware), or Fire-King. These products can go from the freezer to the oven and even, if no gold is present, the microwave. The key in determining the viability of a piece of glass for the oven or microwave is to select glassware that was “ovenware.” Fortunately, many of these vintage delights will be marked with this word making it easy to determine what pieces of glass can meet your baking and reheating needs.
PYREX products abound! From the earliest clear pieces to the colors introduced in the 1940s, this glass ovenware offers everything from refrigerator dishes to mixing bowls to measuring cups. Don’t forget Corningware or Corelle. Corningware casseroles are abundant and can be acquired in thrift stores and yard sales, not just in antiques malls. Store your leftovers in glass and use a CorelleR plate as a cover in the microwave because research clearly indicates that plastics simply don’t belong in a microwave. And how about the fabulous pieces of Glasbake with lovely, under-appreciated designs!?
Look around your own kitchen. Chances are you already have pieces of glass that would provide an easily-adapted alternative for safe food storage: canning jars, peanut butter jars, etc. Think outside the (plastic) box a little and you, too, can create a greener household and ultimately a greener planet.