Update on the ReThink Plastic Translation Project

Wind of the Spirit (WOTS) is partnering with Plastic Pollution Coalition to promote the ReThink Plastic training within their New Jersey area of the United States. The Cancer Free Economy Network (CFEN) provided a grant to support the trainings. WOTS worked for several months translating the ReThink Plastic training materials into Spanish and launched their first trainings in January 2020. 

As of March 2, 2020, thirty-three participants have been trained. Trainings took place at the Morristown Immigrant Justice Committee, the Dover Immigrant Justice Committee, a general training in the town of Dover, NJ, and a Parent-Teacher group along with an ESL class in Paterson. 


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While further trainings had been scheduled, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the WOTS team is re-evaluating what and how to continue to get the messaging for ReThink Plastic out while addressing other prominent community needs. 

Invitations for tabling at the “Green Fair” on March 19 and “Green Forum” on April 25 have been cancelled, along with a request to speak on a panel after a film screening of “Plastic Ocean” on April 1.  WOTS had also been invited to collaborate with a local pastor to do a mini ReThink Plastic training as part of a regular church service, which will be rescheduled. The outreach to other local environmental and health groups to arrange other trainings have been put on hold.  

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By Sandra Curtis

On a recent October evening in Morristown, New Jersey, a small group of trainers met to learn about the ReThink Plastic Translation Project. The purpose was to introduce leaders of the immigrants’ rights group, Wind of the Spirit (WOTS) to the overall global plastic pollution crisis and to the opportunity they had to share messaging and training with their community in their native language of Spanish. Further, they would be able to participate in the development of a Rethink Plastic resource manual for trainers in other immigrant communities. 

In an ongoing effort to expand the messaging on how to reduce personal exposure to the toxic chemicals in plastic, Plastic Pollution Coalition is partnering with Wind of the Spirits to translate the intervention study into Spanish and to develop a “train-the-trainers” model for dissemination. An Emergent Opportunities Fund grant from the Cancer Free Economy Network (CFEN) is making this work possible.

The original ReThink Plastic pilot study was funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Project in partnership with Child Health and Development Studies. There is strong scientific evidence that the chemicals used in the manufacture of many plastics are known to mimic estrogen activity and that these “environmental estrogens” are linked to breast cancer. 

The goal of the pilot study was to reduce exposure to these chemicals using simple, practical behavior change and to spread the study messages to reduce plastic use.

A basic assumption of the study was that 80 percent of people’s exposure to the estrogenic chemicals in plastic come from food purchase, preparation, and storage. The study focused on the following behaviors.

  • Shopping

  • Eating/drinking

  • Heating food

  • Spreading Messages

Results of the ReThink Plastic study showed that in a short education program, participants can significantly change their behavior. Statistically significant change in the desired direction was noted on nearly every behavior queried on the pre- and post-test surveys.  Further, the ReThink Plastic study was successful at getting people to talk to members of their families, friends, and communities to spread the study messages.  The messages were:

  • Use glass or stainless steel water bottles. 

  • Never microwave food in plastic containers.

  • Store food in glass or ceramic containers. 

  • Skip canned foods and beverages.

  • Reduce take-out food.

  • Don’t handle receipts with bare hands. (If you do, wash with soap and water as soon as possible and DO NOT use hand sanitizer).

ReThink Plastic demonstrated that changing behavior can reduce the health hazards associated with the toxic chemicals in plastic.  The task that the ReThink Plastic Translation Project has taken on is to spread the study’s messages in more communities around the country.  

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by Sandra Curtis

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) most recent policy statement recommends limiting exposure to chemicals for infants and children. The first two chemicals of increasing concern on their list are used in the manufacture of plastics:

  • Bisphenols

  • Phthalates

These chemicals are present in food containers, canned food, plastic bottles, and many other items that are used for food preparation and storage. They are the specific class of chemicals on which ReThink Plastic (2018) focused. The ReThink pilot study conducted by Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) in partnership with Child Health and Development Services (CHDS), showed significant results with an intervention strategy focused on many of the same recommendations as the AAP in their new policy statement.

Infants and children are more vulnerable than other age groups to chemical exposure. Children may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these compounds because not only is their exposure relative to their body intake per pound is higher, but their metabolic systems are still developing and are less efficient at detoxifying what they ingest and are vulnerable to disruptions.

A lack of data on food additives exists stemming from the food regulatory system itself. First, neither the FDA nor the public have adequate notice or review new food additives. A system referred to as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) has become the standard by which all new food additives enter the market. However, this process was intended to be used only in limited situations. The Government Accountability Office conducted an extensive review of the FDA GRAS program in 2010 and determined that the FDA is not able to ensure the safety of existing or new additives through this approval mechanism.

The new policy recommends parents and caregivers:

  • Prioritize consumption of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible.

  • Avoid processed meats, especially maternal consumption during pregnancy.

  • Avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible.

  • Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher.

  • Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.

To learn more about toxic chemicals in plastics and to get safe product recommendations download the free Healthy Baby Guide created by Plastic Pollution Coalition and Made Safe. 

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Photo courtesy of National Geographic: Plastic bottles choke the Cibeles fountain, outside city hall in central Madrid. 

On Monday, the European Commission proposed new EU-wide rules to target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas, including plastic cutlery, straws, and cotton buds. 

The ambitious proposal is designed to prevent and reduce the impact of plastic pollution on the environment, and in particular the marine environment, and sets a number of policy measures to tackle problematic single-use products, from bans and reduction efforts, to labelling and extended producer responsibility schemes. The draft rules still need the approval of all EU member states and the European Parliament. 

The Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development said: “This Commission promised to be big on the big issues and leave the rest to Member States. Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food. Today’s proposals will reduce single use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products.”

Speaking on behalf of Rethink Plastic, an alliance of leading European NGOs, and a member of Break Free From PlasticSarah Baulch said: “The Commission has awakened to the call of European citizens to address the devastating impacts of plastic pollution on our environment. Phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic applications and those for which a sustainable alternative is already available is key to ensuring a responsible use of plastics.”

Rethink Plastic called the proposal “a leap forward in tackling plastic pollution” but advocated for set targets for EU countries to reduce the use of plastic cups and food containers as well. 

Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition commended European Commission: “We applaud the EU for stepping up to address plastic pollution from single-use plastic products, which make up over 40 percent of plastic pollution in our environment. Plastic pollution is an urgent global crisis, and it’s time for the U.S. to take similar action.”

In California, U.S., legislation to reduce pollution from plastic straws, plastic bottle caps, synthetic clothing has become the next wave of action to stop plastic pollution. This wave comes after the state banned single-use plastic bags in 2016.

“The EU’s new rules signal an evolution in the global movement to stop plastic pollution,” said Cohen. “Plastic Pollution Coalition and our 700+ member groups call on the U.S. to set similiar targets to reduce plastic pollution for the health of humans, animals, waterways and oceans, and the environment.” 

Take the pledge to refuse single-use plastic. 

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By Sandra Curtis

A NEW pilot study report ReThink Plastic has demonstrated that changing behavior can reduce the health hazards associated with the toxic chemicals in plastic. Plastic Pollution Coalition served as co-investigator along with Child Health and Development Studies for the pilot study, funded by California’s Breast Cancer Research Fund.

According to the report, the study was effective at reducing exposure to chemicals in plastic with change in nearly every behavior queried on the pre- and post-test surveys being statistically significant and in the desired direction. 

Based on these findings and with the funder’s encouragement, the investigator team submitted a three-year grant proposal to expand the study. 

Goal of the Pilot Study

The chemicals used in the manufacture of many plastics are known to mimic estrogen activity. There is strong scientific evidence linking these “environmental estrogens” to breast cancer. The ReThink Plastic study was designed to reduce exposure to these chemicals using simple, practical behavior change and to spread the study messages to reduce plastic use.

Findings

The ReThink Plastic study was successful at reducing exposures to harmful chemicals in plastic which mimic estrogen. The results showed that in a short education program, participants can significantly change their behavior. Statistically significant change in the desired direction was noted on nearly every behavior queried on the pre- and post-test surveys.

Further, the ReThink Plastic study was successful at getting people to talk to members of their families, friends, and communities to spread the study messages.

The Study

Ninety-Three (93) participant were recruited from the San Francisco East Bay through African American Churches and local community colleges. After taking a pre-test, they were presented with a 45-minute education program conducted by the co-investigators. A subset of the group, post-menopausal women, were recruited to take a blood test to assess their overall estrogen levels.

Participants were instructed to reduce their use of plastic, specifically focusing on food purchase, preparation, and storage for a month. A follow-up discussion session was conducted one month later in which the participants took a post-test.

During the month between the two study sessions, participants were asked to engage in the steps below and to disseminate these messages to family and friends:

  • Use glass or stainless steel water bottles. 
  • Never microwave food in plastic containers.
  • Store food in glass or ceramic containers. 
  • Skip canned foods and beverages.
  • Reduce take-out food.
  • Don’t handle receipts with bare hands. (If you do, wash with soap and water as soon as possible and DO NOT use hand sanitizer).

Participants were willing to provide blood samples and the AroER tri-screen blood test that measures overall estrogenic activity showed very promising preliminary results. Further testing is needed.

 

 

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A basic assumption of the study was that 80 percent of people’s exposure to the estrogenic chemicals in plastic come from food purchase, preparation, and storage. The pre and post test focused on the following behaviors.

  • Shopping
  • Eating/drinking
  • Heating food
  • Spreading Messages

Message Spread

Participants were asked to talk to family, friends and social contacts about the six Study Messages. From 57 of the original group participates the message was spread to 539 recipients.

With the results of the pilot study now available, the ReThink Plastic team of investigators awaits news of funding for the full three year grant. In addition, the team awaits news on funding for the additional pilot study of the AroER tri-screen blood test’s validity which will assess overall estrogenic activity in the body, in lieu of testing for specific chemicals.

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