Susan is five; she is sick with a high temperature and snuggled tightly in her fleece pajamas under a warm fleece blanket. Her curls are stuck to her temples from sweat. Her mom sits at her bedside reading her a book and giving her broth alongside hot yarrow tea out of glass mason jars. She’s taken her dose of kraut juice and homemade elderberry syrup made with her local farmer’s honey.
Mom is doing almost everything right. She is a good mom. But she has no idea her daughter may suffer poison from plastics. After all, she does everything she can to avoid plastics—using glass, ceramic and stainless steel instead.
A HIDDEN SOURCE
What Susan’s mom does not realize is that polyester and fleece clothing—Susan’s pajamas and blanket—are made from plastic! That’s right, our stores are filled with clothing and bedding made from recycled plastic bottles. The same people who are removing plastics from their lives, who know that plastic bottles contain estrogenic-releasing toxins, may not be aware they are wearing those same plastic bottles.
Clothing made out of plastic bottles begins at the plastics recycling center with a process called shredding. Generally when recycled bottles reach the recycling center a little bit of drink is left at the bottom of every bottle. Shredding rips up the bottles by putting them through a machine lined with rotating blades, releasing any remaining liquid and ripping the bottles into smaller pieces.
The shredded pieces of plastic are then formed into square blocks, wrapped in cellophane and shipped all over the world, primarily to China. Workers then open the blocks of plastic and separate clear plastic from colored plastic by hand. Clear plastic has a higher value because it can be made into clothing that is white or into clothing that can be dyed any color.
The bottles get washed in caustic soda to remove any labels. Lids float along the assembly line until workers remove them.
The wet plastic bits are then rotated in drums for roughly ten hours to dry. Then the plastic bits go through a tube with a rotating pipe inside, moving the plastic bottle bits down the pipeline as it heats them to over two hundred degrees Celsius. At the end of the pipeline the liquid plastic hits a sieve, a metal plate filled with tiny holes. This process is much like pushing ground beef through a meat processor to make hamburger. Once the plastic is pushed through the holes it comes out the ends as thin threads, multiple single strands of plastic thread that look like long spaghetti noodles.
The long strings fall into containers below the pipeline. To strengthen the weak threads, they are gathered and run through another assembly line which melts the fibers together, stretching and heating the fibers, bonding them as one and turning them into what looks like pizza dough in one long sheet. The sheets are torn apart into pieces that resemble cotton fluff.
At this point the fluff is the raw substance needed to make polyester. Fluff, which looks like puffs of combed cotton, are sent to polyester manufacturing companies for further processing. At these companies, machines card the fibers, combing them all into the same direction, making the material stronger. The resulting product looks much like a tube of fleece batting. Thread is pulled, wound and stored on tubes making large “thread” spools.
Thread from each spool goes into a loom which weaves the thread into sheets of fabric polyester. These sheets of fabric are fed through a machine filled with rolling and spinning brushes that catch the fabric and rip the looping thread in order to give it a softer plush feel.1
Anne Aitchison, chairman of the board of the Naperville, Illinois, Area Recycling Center told Recycle Stuff CGR in 2011 that they collect about a ton of recycled plastics a week. She says, “It costs us about seven cents per pound to process and collect this material. We are currently getting between seventeen and eighteen cents per pound.”2
The irony is that producers can promote the recycled polyester as “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly.” In an article in National Geographic, singer, songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams, credited with the popular songs “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines,” describes a new venture, diversifying his assets in what is being called “sustainable fashion.”
According to the article, “Williams is the creative director of Bionic Yarn, a company that makes yarn and fabrics out of recycled plastic bottles.” Williams has “launched a line of denim they call ‘RAW for the Oceans,’ featuring jeans made from recycled plastic that is reclaimed from the ocean.” The product hit G-Star stores in 2014.3
DANGERS OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION
The undiscussed fact is that when plastics are heated, they leach. They also leach when in contact with acid. These chemicals are entering our bodies daily, absorbed through our skin and in the items we eat and drink.4.5.6
According to Discovery News, lab tests on more than twenty top-brand baby bottles along with more than four hundred fifty plastic food and beverage packages, found that virtually all leached chemicals—chemicals that act like the hormone estrogen—even though many were free of BPA. BPA migrates from polycarbonate water bottles at rates ranging from 0.20 to 0.79 ng per hour. At room temperature the migration of BPA is independent of whether or not the bottle had been previously used. Exposure to boiling water increases the rate of BPA migration by up to fifty-five fold.7
According to Science Daily, “Prior to boiling water exposure, the rate of release from individual bottles ranged from 0.2 to 0.8 nanograms per hour. After exposure, rates increased to 8 to 32 nanograms per hour.”8
Environmental Health Perspectives notes more than eight hundred studies on the health effects of BPA, published between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.9 Further studies are ongoing. Yet there are no published studies on the leaching of these chemicals into our bodies through our largest organ, the skin.
However, a study published in The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health gives us a clue. Researchers found that “permethrin, an agricultural insecticide, (is) applied to clothing in an effort to protect military personnel from infectious insects. Leaching and/or absorption were evaluated for the presence of sweat, different fabric types, and the effects of prelaundering. Results showed that fabric treated with permethrin at a rate of 0.125 mg/cm2 lost the substance to the skin surface at an average rate of 0.49 percent/d. At the end of the 7-d exposures in rabbits, about 3.2 percent of the available permethrin had reached the skin, 2 percent having been recovered from excreta (absorbed) and 1.2 percent remaining on the skin surface.”10
If chemicals from the fabric leach into the skin, chemicals within the fabric itself could do the same. When plastics are heated they release toxins whether they are in water bottle form and we drink the toxins, or in the form of clothing. Holding plastic against your warm skin could have the same effect.
The biggest concern may be fleece pajamas, where the material is pressed directly against the skin for an eight-hour stretch under warm blankets. If the person is sick with the flu and fever, sweating slightly acidic sweat, the situation is potentially more dangerous.
As consumers we have a choice. It makes sense to avoid polyester and fleece fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles, or at the least to avoid wearing them directly against the skin. Instead, wear a long sleeve cotton shirt under the fleece or polyester fabric so there is a buffering layer between potential leaching BPA or other plastic toxins and the skin that absorbs these toxins.
Clothing that sits directly on the skin should be made of organic cotton or bamboo if possible. Plastics are entering our systems in ways we often don’t consider.
HAZARDOUS POLYESTER WASTE
In the past, polyester was made from coal, air, water, and petroleum through a chemical reaction process between alcohol and an acid. According to The Journal of Environmental Science and Health, “1,4-Dioxane is one of the by-products from the polyester manufacturing process, which has been carelessly discharged into water bodies and is a weak human carcinogen.”11
Environmental Health Perspectives calls the production of cheap clothing disposable. Fast fashion, as they say, is similar to fast food. Clothes are so cheap we use them and toss them.12
They go on to say, “The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease.”
Further they add, “Volatile monomers, solvents, and other by-products of polyester production are emitted in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants. The EPA, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators.”
Reducing the manufacture of polyester has benefits to our toxin load on our bodies, in our bodies and in the air we breathe.
DO WE REALLY NEED TO WORRY ABOUT PLASTICS?
For people on a healing quest, a necessary first step is the removal of all inflammatory foods including improperly prepared grains, sugars, industrial seed oils, pasteurized dairy products and processed foods of any kind, restoring the home to a place of cooked meals that nourish the body with nutrient-dense foods. Others with more severe damage need to obtain their food from local farmers who do not use pesticides, anti-fungals, GMO feed, hormone-filled injections or antibiotics on their vegetables, poultry or other food; they will also need to remove the chemical burden absorbed through their skin, the largest organ in the body. Chemicals in beauty products contain toxic heavy metals, which “assist” the body in absorbing the product, as well as preservatives, synthetic fragrances and many other foreign-to-the-body ingredients.
The struggle for many people is removing the offending toxic overload as it is everywhere, including in the air we breathe. Some people throw their hands up and say things like, “Forget it, I’m not even going to try.” However, for those who are very sick, with severe autism, FPIES or who are PANDAS babies, there is no other option. For these people, feeling bad is normal. Often their lab tests return with inconclusive results, and the doctor tells them their situation is idiopathic, meaning they do not know the cause. To make matters worse for them, most of these people who suffer don’t look sick, leaving them trapped in a world inside their failing body, doing their best to make it through each day.
For these people the only path to feeling better is seeking out new offenders, inflammation-causing sources, and chemical and toxic invaders. Elimination of these offenders is vital.
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2254523/; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378427407010090
11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22217090; http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Polyester.html#ixzz3MN0flHym
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2016