When Juliette Scarfe invites you to potter about the kitchen of her home in South London, you fail to notice anything odd at first - and then it dawns on you. It is a completely plastic-free zone.
‘I won’t have it in my house, I won’t have it in my body and I don’t want it anywhere near anyone I love,’ she says. ‘It’s all around us and it’s poisoning us. The problem is, we’ve all come to take it so much for granted that we just assume it’s safe. Well, it isn’t!’
Juliette is a 33-year-old former lawyer who gave up the profession to launch Bare Skin Beauty, her own brand of organic cosmetics, earlier this year. She is also one of a growing number of people who are turning their backs on plastic bottles, plastic-lined tin cans and anything edible that comes in plastic packaging.
What a load of rubbish: Consumers are gradually turning their backs on plastic because of health concerns
‘I hate plastic bags, I no longer drink from plastic bottles and I won’t cook with, or store food in, any kind of plastic,’ she says.
Instead, you find cotton, jute or hemp shopping bags in her drawers. In the fridge, her food is stored in glass, ceramic or terracotta containers. All her cooking utensils are made from wood and her food processor is made of glass.
‘I had to search for ages recently to find a blender that wasn’t made of plastic,’ she says. ‘It took a while, but eventually I found a glass one.’
And Juliette isn’t some lone fanatic. Look around you and you’ll see cyclists, joggers and pedestrians who would once have been seen clutching plastic bottles of water now holding stainless steel and paper containers instead.
Drink to your health? Research has shown that harmful compounds can leach from plastics into the food and drinks that we consume
‘Our sales have doubled year on year for the past three years,’ says Neil Tomlinson, founder of Aquapax, which sells water in durable paper cartons. ‘Slowly, people are learning about what’s in plastic and they’re turning their backs on it.’
So, what exactly are these people learning? And should you follow their example?
During the past five years, public awareness has slowly grown over concerns about compounds in some plastic bottles and food containers.
The compounds on which most concerns have focused are Bisphenol A (known as BPA), which is used in tough polycarbonate products and epoxy resins that line tin cans, and a group of plastic softeners called phthalates.
Research has shown that these compounds can leach from plastics into the food and drinks that we consume - more so if they are heated to high temperatures, raising additional concerns about the kinds of plastics that are used as containers in microwave ovens.
So prevalent is BPA that tests by the U.S. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention in 2004 found it in 93 per cent of urine samples taken from a group of 2,517 people.
Furthermore, a landmark report on BPA published in 2008 by the U.S. National Toxicology Program concluded that there were concerns over BPA’s effects on the brain, behaviour and prostate gland development in foetuses, infants and children. It also found that because of the ratio of body weight to exposure, ‘the highest estimated daily intake of Bisphenol A in the general population occurs in infants and children’.
This is because if a man of 180lb and an infant weighing 20lb ingested 5mg, the infant would have taken in more of the substance than the man, relative to their size.
One of the biggest concerns about BPA and phthalates is that they act as what scientists call ‘environmental oestrogens’, so-called because they mimic the hormone in our bodies.