This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we’ve turned our focus to plastics.

Today, it’s all about the phthalates.

According to the Environmental Working Group, phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient. Phthalates are also used as solvents and are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo. 

Phthalates are known as “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastics in your daily life.

Today’s proposed action is: Make your house phthalate-free.

Do a thorough sweep of your house — from your children’s toys and cosmetics to food packaging and shampoo — to minimize the phthalates in your house.

Phthalates aren’t often listed in an ingredients section, so here are some ways to identify them in your home:

  1. Read the ingredients. According to the organization Pollution in People, you can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:
    • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.)
    • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
    • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products.
    • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).
  2. Be wary of the term “fragrance,” which is used to denote a combination of compounds, possibly including phthalates.
  3. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.
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